Trade liberalisation and overall relationship

26 - Reciprocity on visa procedures with the US

Grade: C-
Unity 2/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 7/20
Scorecard 2012
Grade: C-
Unity 2/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 7/20
Scorecard 2010/11
Grade: C
Unity 3/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 8/20

Four member states still need visas for travel to the US, and Europeans did not exercise their collective clout on this issue.

Four EU member states – Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania – are still excluded from the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with the United States, whereas Americans can travel visa-free to and within the EU. The reasons are ostensibly technical: their visa refusal rate is above the 3 percent threshold fixed by the US Congress, and Bulgaria and Romania are not yet part of the Schengen Area. But there is nothing a country can do to lower its visa refusal rate. Citizens are free to apply and reapply multiple times, thereby worsening the statistics. Furthermore, the requirements for Schengen are much more stringent than for the VWP. The real reason is that some senators do not like the VWP and seek to limit the number of countries benefitting from it.

In 2012, several bills aimed at expanding the VWP were nonetheless introduced in Congress, most notably the JOLT Act, and the Obama administration was very supportive. However, nothing came out of it. Of the four member states still not in the VWP, Poland was the most vocal on this issue by far, and it may be the only one to get admitted in the near future, whereas the Schengen requirement may delay the entry of Romania and Bulgaria. The EEAS pleaded with US authorities on behalf of the four countries, both in Washington through the EU delegation and in bilateral talks with the US administration more generally, but there is little it can do to influence Congress. Moreover, other EU member states were not mobilised.

The European Commission has yet to issue its final verdict on whether the US ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), a mandatory registration scheme with an attendant $14 fee per person to travel to the US on the VWP, is a visa in disguise or not. Regardless of the ruling, Europeans should keep pressing Washington to drop the fee, for which the EU has no equivalent for Americans travelling to Europe.