Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has said that the Trump administration has “to start looking very hard at” the United States’ Visa Waiver Program, remarks which could have implications for a long-running dispute regarding visa-free travel for Americans to Europe.
Kelly made the remarks during an appearance at George Washington University, CNN Money reports. Importantly, he said the look was not “eliminating [the program] and not doing anything excessive, but look very hard at that program.”
Kelley told CNN that a review is necessary because thousands of European passport holders have traveled to Iraq and Syria over the course of the Syrian conflict, and that many of them have fought for ISIS. Those combatants could then return to Europe and use the Visa Waiver Program to return to the United States and carry out terrorist attacks.
The remarks could have implications for travel from the U.S. to Europe The United States and European Union (EU) have been engaged in a long-running dispute regarding visa reciprocity between the two areas. A principle of the EU’s common visa policy, visa reciprocity requires countries whose citizens can travel visa-free to the EU to also allow visa-free travel from all EU member nations. Currently, the U.S. does not allow visa-free travel for citizens from Poland, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria, all of which are EU members. If a country does not allow visa-free travel from all EU members, the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, can move to rescind visa-free travel from that country. According to Euromonitor stats cited by CNN Money, 14 million European citizens traveled under the Visa Waiver Program to the United States in 2015, so any move to alter the program could affect the type of visa-free travel that is at the root of the discussions.
The dispute, which first began in 2014, prompted the European Parliament to vote to rescind visa-free travel from the U.S. in March. News of the vote, which was nonbinding and would require the European Commission to act on it, prompted industry organizations, including the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Travel Leaders Group, to urge the U.S. and EU to work together to avoid implementing new visa restrictions on travel. The GBTA cited an Oxford Economics study that projected a 23 percent decline in travel revenue for the U.S. and Canada as a result of a suspension, as well as a projected 140,000 jobs lost in Europe and 73,000 jobs lost in the United States.
"A suspension would create a lasting, negative impact on business travel, which accounted for an estimated $1.2 trillion dollars in global spending last year," the GBTA said in a statement at the time. "The global economy already faces many uncertainties, and this move could deal a devastating blow to further economic growth."
At the same time, executives from major tour operators and travel industry organizations Travel Agent spoke with at the time said that it was highly unlikely the EU would move to restrict visa-free travel any time this year. Similarly, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) stressed that no changes had been made yet.