EU Warns US Over Visa Change Policy

EU Warns US Over Visa Change PolicyEU Warns US Over Visa Change Policy

Diplomats from the 28-member European Union on Monday warned they could respond in kind if the United States makes good on plans to end visa-free entry for some EU nationals.

After the November 13 terror strikes in Paris and as part of wider anti-terror efforts, the US House of Representatives voted last Tuesday in support of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015, a measure the White House supports.

The Paris strikes were conducted by extremists who could have traveled to the United States without a visa. The bill, which still requires Senate and White House nods, would bar people who traveled after March 1, 2011 to Iraq and Syria — as well as Iran and Sudan — from participating in the visa-free program, AFP reported.

“Compulsory biometric checks at the port of origin would represent the de facto introduction of a visa regime in all but name,” EU Ambassador to the US David O’Sullivan said in an editorial in The Hill, on behalf of ambassadors to the US of EU member states.

“Such indiscriminate action against the more than 13 million European citizens who travel to the US each year would be counterproductive, could trigger legally mandated reciprocal measures, and would do nothing to increase security while instead hurting economies on both sides of the Atlantic.”

This is while last week, in an interview with the BBC, the diplomat had stopped short of threatening to reciprocate against US citizens and said he remains focused on finding a way to resolve the issue through dialogue.

 Penalizing Millions

He said the EU wants to “maintain the highest security of the visa waiver program” but opposes “introducing new rigidities which would penalize millions of Europeans and Americans” who travel back and forth.

The US acknowledged potential for strains over any changes.

“We have been in touch with and will continue to be in touch with European leaders about their concerns about the program,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “It’s an important program, we recognize that.”

The amendments to the visa program also threaten Iran’s emerging tourism industry, which is widely expected to make a comeback in the next few years. The move to scrap visa-free travel for EU nationals may deter thousands of leisure and business tourists from visiting Iran, which is possibly the most politically-stable country in the region.

VWP is available to citizens of 38 countries, largely US allies and relatively stable developed democracies.

Many are in Europe, including Belgium and France, the home countries of several of the Paris attackers.

Created in 1986 to help facilitate travel to the US, the program allows applicants to fill out a detailed form online and pay a small fee, rather than apply at US consulates.

  Online Backlash

The recent amendment to VWP did not go down well with Iranians who hold dual citizenship.

Twitter accounts and other Facebook pages dedicated to organizing to protest against the bill have also been created, including @StopHR158, which references the official number of the bill.

The National Iranian American Council in Washington is lobbying to stop this bill from passing in the Senate.

“These provisions impacting Iranian Americans were added in backroom negotiations at the last minute without hearings or accountability,” the group said in a statement.

On social media many Iranian Americans expressed shock that such limitations would be imposed on people who travel to Iran but not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, according to the BBC.

Others called it a continuation of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. ‘It’s so “Trumpesque”’ tweeted Shayan, a German of Iranian background who said he was worried that his trip to US may be affected.

“It will hurt European tourism and business travel to Iran,” said Shabnam Tavasoli, an active member of the Facebook page set up to fight the legislation.

“People will be deterred by the fact that one trip there means they will no longer be able to fly to US without the cumbersome process of getting a US visa through an embassy,” he wrote, adding it was “preposterous” a British citizen could not use the program if they had inherited Iranian citizenship from a parent.