Visa Waiver Program Update: EU Declines to Impose Visa Restrictions on Americans Traveling to the EU

July 16, 2016

By Caitlin Steinke and Tina Monshipour Foster, Law Firm of Tina Foster

On July 13, the European Commission decided that it would not require American tourists and business travelers to obtain visas before traveling to the European Union. The decision comes after months of debate concerning the European Union’s response to changes the US government made to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) earlier this year, which many consider to be discriminatory restrictions that create second-class citizens among Europeans.

The VWP allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business - and stay for up to 90 days - without first obtaining a visa. The success of the program depends on its underlying principle of reciprocity; in exchange for allowing citizens of participating countries to visit the United States visa-free, the VWP also allows US citizens to travel to any of the other 38 countries visa-free.

Due to recent changes implemented by the US Congress, the VWP now prohibits visa-free travel to the United States for any citizen of a VWP country who is also a citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Sudan. The changes also prohibit visa-free travel for any citizen of a VWP country who has visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Sudan on or after March 1, 2011, unless such travel was to perform military or official government service for a VWP country.

Since the VWP is based on reciprocity, the European Union would be well within its rights to respond in kind, and deny visa-free travel to certain - or all - American citizens. Fortunately, the European Commission determined that suspending the VWP for American citizens would not only damage relations with the United States, but hinder efforts to achieve full visa waiver reciprocity between the European Union and the United States. In the meantime, the European Commission will continue to push for all situations of non-reciprocity to be resolved.

European Commission Fact Sheet: EU Visa Reciprocity Mechanism – Questions and Answers