I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the recent decision by the European Union to require travel visas from US citizens. First, a little back story.
A visa is a special permit placed in your passport that allows you to visit a country. Usually you have to send your passport to the local embassy of the country you plan to visit. They do a little research, and decide whether or not they want to allow you to visit their country. If they approve, they stamp a visa in your passport indicating when you can visit, and for how long.
The European Union does not currently require any visas for US citizens who want to visit for up to 90 days. They figure Americans, as a whole, are pretty trustworthy. The US has a reciprocal agreement with the EU. Although the US Department of Homeland Security, and US Customs and Border Protection require that all EU citizens file their travel plans through ESTA (the Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which is kind of an electronic visa, we don’t really require travel visas from EU citizens wanting to visit the US. Except – and this is the sticking point – from citizens of five European Union member countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania.
The EU feels some of their citizens are being treated unfairly. The US feels that these five countries don’t have stringent enough security controls to warrant visa-free travel to the US. This is not a new problem. The EU actually warned the US to drop the visa requirement, or face consequences, more than two years ago, but the past administration chose not to do anything about it.
Last Thursday the European Parliament made good on the threat. The voted, with a simple show of hands, to require the European Commission to enact new procedures requiring travel visas from US citizens. So what happens now?
In short, probably nothing. One European bureaucracy has asked another European bureaucracy to do something. The EU Commission has said they will look at the issue, but not before late June. The problem for them is that more than 30 million Americans visit Europe each year, spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $54 billion. It’s a nice neighborhood. And countries like Italy and France want to make sure it stays that way. Requiring visas tends to reduce the number of people who visit, which would seriously impact their tourist revenue.
Even if – worst case scenario – the EU Commission were to suddenly decide that they were going to require visas, it could be years before mechanisms could be put in place. Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if 5 million US passports suddenly ended up on the desk of the Italian Embassy in Washington?
If you’re planning a trip to Europe this year, relax. Nothing has changed. All you need is your passport – but do make sure it is valid for at least six months beyond your travel date. Many European countries require that it be valid for at least three months, and some require a full six months beyond your planned departure date.
Rome's new mayor, Virginia Raggi, was elected in June on promises to clear out corruption and clean up the city. Today, less than six months later, comes word that Raffaele Marra, a close advisor considered her right hand man, has been arrested on corruption charges. Just a few days ago the mayor's environmental advisor resigned, after revealing that she was the subject of an investigation (unrelated to Mr Marra's case).
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