Washington, DC – A standoff over visa-free travel privileges between the U.S. and European Union was exacerbated by recent Congressionally-mandated restrictions against dual nationals and recent travelers to Iran. However, the European Commission delayed consideration this week of a proposal to suspend visa-free travel privileges for all American travelers until July.
Under EU law, the Commission was required to consider suspending the Visa Waiver Program for twelve months on Tuesday due to a complaint brought two years ago by the five EU Member States that the US has deemed ineligible for visa-free travel. Instead, the Commission set a new July 12 deadline to decide on a response while highlighting several areas of disagreement between the EU and U.S. that it would like to see addressed, including the recently enacted U.S. restrictions against dual nationals.
The Commission’s report notes its favorable view of bipartisan legislation, the Equal Protection in Travel Act (S. 2449/H.R. 4380), that would remove the restrictions on affected EU dual nationals. One of the legislation’s lead sponsors, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offered the bill as an amendment to the must-pass Federal Aviation Administration authorization but Senate leadership has not allowed the measure to come up for a vote.
In a statement, and in messages to Congress, NIAC Action acknowledged that there are many complex issues between the U.S. and EU regarding the Visa Waiver Program, but that discriminating against travelers based on national origin or family heritage should not be one of them. “Targeting people based on their heritage is un-American, does not make Americans safer, and could come with real costs,” said NIAC Action’s Jamal Abdi. “Congress should act immediately to repeal this restriction in order to not just protect American values, but also American travel privileges.”
In December, Congress passed legislation in the omnibus appropriations act that restricted visa-free travel to the U.S. for dual nationals of the 38 Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries and Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan–as well as persons who have traveled to those countries in the past five years. These restrictions, which discriminate solely on the basis of national origin, are already having an adverse impact on EU citizens and have threatened to provoke reciprocal restrictions on American travelers.
There has been growing momentum to remove the restrictions on dual nationals. Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), the lead sponsor of H.R. 158, the legislation that first proposed restricting dual national, has acknowledged that such restrictions may need to be reevaluated. Thirty-five tech CEOs and entrepreneurs — including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Pixar President Ed Catmull, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — endorsed the Equal Protection in Travel Act and denounced the dual national restrictions as discriminatory and bad for U.S. business. Sixty-five civil liberties, Iranian-American, and Arab-American organizations have also urged for passage of the bill.