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Visa Waiver Program in Danger of Suspension

Sandi Cain
, Senior News Editor
April 22, 2016
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Washington, DC - If you think international travel is a challenge now, it may be on the verge of getting even more complicated.

David DuBois, President & CEO, IAEE Karen Chupka, Senior Vice President of CES and Corporate Business Strategy, Consumer Technology AssociationA reciprocal visa-waiver program between the European Union (EU) countries, the US and Canada for nearly 30 years has allowed most citizens to travel between nations with just a passport. It’s now in danger of elimination if the European Union, the US and Canada cannot come to an agreement regarding countries the EU includes in visa waiver, but the US and Canada do not.

The EU says that full reciprocity is a cornerstone of its common visa policy and any non-reciprocity issues that aren’t corrected in 24 months can be cause for suspending visa-free travel from the offending countries. And therein lies the rub.

The US and Canada still require visas for a handful of countries within the EU, and the allowable time to revise those requirements expired April 12. On that date, the European Commission delayed until July 12 a decision by the European Parliament and the EU member governments on what next steps to suggest if travelers from these countries still require visas for US/Canada travel. If no resolution is forthcoming, the European Commission could reinstate visa requirements on US and Canadian citizens after July 12.

“A possible suspension of the visa waiver program by the European Union would negatively impact the meetings, exhibitions and events industry in the EU, US and Canada,” said David DuBois, President & CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). 

“The exhibition industry is global in nature, and this diverse, face-to-face industry relies upon easy entry between countries to facilitate business development and growth,” he said.

The countries not currently eligible for visa waiver in the US are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania; Canada still requires visas for Bulgaria and Romania visitors. The European Commission recently added Ukraine to visa-free areas. The US still requires visas for residents of the Ukraine.

Though EU regulations require that its members consider economic and logistic consequences of ending reciprocity for visa-free travel and the Commission called a suspension ‘unlikely,’ all parties appear to be proceeding as if it can indeed happen.

There are currently 38 allies in the US visa-waiver program. There were 1.2 billion international travel trips from the US in 2015 and 35 million incoming international travelers who generated $190 billion in economic impact, according to the US Travel Association. Any interruption is certain to generate significant consequences.

Karen Chupka, Senior Vice President of CES and Corporate Business Strategy for the Consumer Technology Association, said that systems like the visa waiver program “make it easier for our members to travel to the EU to develop business partnerships that ultimately create US jobs.” She warned that terminating such an essential program would “jeopardize the estimated $1.06 trillion in goods and private services trade between the US and EU.” She noted that would likely have a negative impact on CES, which draws more than 50,000 international attendees annually and regularly tops the charts as the largest annual trade show in the US, according to the Trade Show Executive Gold 100. 

Roger Dow, President & CEO of the US Travel Association, called the visa waiver program a “highly successful program” that is “essential to the economic security of the United States” in testimony before a House Homeland Security subcommittee last year.

In that testimony, Dow said the most lucrative segment of travel is the inbound overseas market. He noted that the average overseas traveler stays longer and spends more on each trip than domestic travelers and that the Visa Waiver Program accounts for the biggest segment of inbound overseas travel. He also said that business travel accounts for 30% of all travel spending. In 2013, business travel generated an estimated $267 billion in direct spending, he said.

Proponents of the visa waiver program also tout its security features. “It allows us to strike the critical balance between national security and international business development,” Chupka said. She went on to note that ending the program now, when a major bilateral trade agreement is being negotiated, would have a “chilling effect on trade.” 

Dow said any proposal to terminate the program would likely cause current partner countries to reinstate visa requirements for US citizens traveling abroad. That could leave a lot of would-be trade show travelers scrambling for visas that would put increased demands on the department to issue new visas in time for required travel.

Reach Karen Chupka at (703) 907-7639 or kchupka@ce.org; David DuBois at (972) 687-9204 or ddubois@iaee.com; Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or rdow@ustravel.org

 

 

 

 

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