There has been a lot of confusing news lately concerning visa restrictions for Americans wishing to travel in Europe. Let me help ease some of that confusion for you, millennials — our travel experiences are very important to us.
What does the news say?
The New York Times reports: “The European Parliament has passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the reintroduction of visa requirements for American citizens, raising the stakes in a long-running battle over the United States’ refusal to grant visa-free access to citizens of five European Union countries.”
Let’s break that down a bit. What were the restrictions for Americans in Europe before?
In general, it is extremely easy for someone with an American passport to travel to the rest of the world, visa-free. As of January 1st, 2017, holders of a United States passport could travel to 174 countries and territories visa-fee or with visa on arrival, making an American passport third in terms of travel freedom, according to the Henley visa restrictions index. The only countries that rank higher are Germany and Sweden.
Specifically pertaining to Europe, the first thing to know is that there are two parts of the European Union. One part is known as The “Schengen Zone” and is composed of 26 countries. The countries not included in the Schengen Zone are: Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, the United Kingdom and Ireland, which have their own regulations.
For all of the EU countries, Americans do not require tourist visas and can stay for at least 90 days without needing a tourist visa (six months in some cases). The difference is that travel within the Schengen Zone is free, meaning passports needn’t be shown in most cases when crossing the border. In the rest of the countries, the passport needs to be shown to cross the border.
So, while there is not much of a difference for Americans at the moment, this information is important to understand for the future. In addition, a visa is required for Americans who wish to work or study in the European Union. So, for example, I required a visa to study in London for a summer, but not to volunteer for an English-immersion preschool in Italy (Ciao, Vupti!!!).
In most cases in the Schengen Zone, the border is a playful and touristic one, like the one between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Basically, us American passport holders (sorry, international folks reading this) could travel to Paris or Rome on a whim and stay for three months, no second thoughts!
Now let’s go a step further. What were the restrictions for Europeans in America before?
The United States usually sets visa restrictions on a bilateral basis.
Which means: if an American citizen needs a visa to go to a certain country (like India, for example), a citizen of that country needs a visa to come to the U.S. (which is true for India, in my example). However, it is definitely not reciprocal in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Europeans who wish to visit the United States can do so with a visa. Citizens of 23 EU countries are eligible for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows them to travel to the U.S. for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days (on each arrival from overseas) without having to obtain a visa.
So, it is kind of reciprocal, except that Europeans have to apply for the waiver before coming to the U.S., while Americans literally just show up in Europe. Five E.U. countries are not on that list: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania. This exclusion is a large part of the reason the European Parliament is considering reinstating visa requirements for American citizens. The European Parliament has been pushing for inclusion on these countries (with the exception of Croatia who only recently joined the EU) since at least 2014.
What are the proposed restrictions for Americans in Europe?
In essence, the European Parliament is demanding that the European Commission demand visa restrictions on American travelers, unless the Grump Administration lifts travel requirements for citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. For the record, similar demands were placed during the Obama Administration.
The European Parliament is threatening to bring the European Commission to court if it does not confront the new administration in Washington.
Officials in the European Parliament, including the head of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs are hastily pushing for an updated timetable because of “heightened concern about the current administration.”
The European Parliament gave the European Commission two months to take legal measures to impose visas for American travelers to the European Union unless the Americans offered reciprocity to all citizens from the block. European Commission officials are afraid of making travel to Europe more difficult for Americans, as it would have a high economic cost and would not resolve the issues facing citizens of the five affected countries.
So, what does it mean?
It is unclear about what the visa restrictions will mean for American passport holders in the future. These discussions have been going on for at least three years, but the EU seems to be pushing more vehemently given the new administration and the reservations Europe has about our newly-elected President.
My opinion is, given the changing global political landscape and the EU’s concerns about America’s current President, the European Parliament will succeed in imposing visa restrictions for Americans traveling to Europe. It is in the EU’s best interest to have more control over who is entering and exiting the area. In addition, President Trump is unlikely to begin relaxing visa requirements, as his prior reforms have served to tighten requirements and “secure borders.”
However, I think it will take time for the demands and requirements to take effect. This means: no more impromptu weekends in Paris…. eventually.
Disclaimer: The political views presented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Not Another Millennial Blog.