European ambassadors warn US over visa changes

House of Representatives voted to tighten restrictions following Paris attacks

European ambassadors to the US, including EU ambassador David O'Sullivan and Irish ambassador Anne Anderson, have issued warnings over proposed changes to the visa waiver programme.

The warnings came after the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to tighten restrictions on the programme, which allows the citizens of 38 countries, including the State, to enter the US without obtaining a visa.

The bill was passed by the members of the House by 407 votes to 19 last week, following the November 13th attacks in Paris.

The restrictions would require visitors from the 38 countries to obtain a visa to travel to the US if they had been to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan in the past five years.

The measure has yet to pass the US Senate.

Writing on behalf of the ambassadors of the 28 EU member states, Mr O’Sullivan warned of the unintended consequences of the changes in an article published in the congressional newspaper, The Hill.

“A blanket restriction on those who have visited Syria or Iraq, for example, would most likely affect legitimate travel by businesspeople, journalists, humanitarian or medical workers, while doing little to detect those who travel by more clandestine means overland,” he wrote.

He warned that EU citizens who are dual nationals of the restricted countries would be “disproportionately and unfairly affected”.

Programme’s history

The programme was introduced in 1986 to strengthen tourism and trade with the US’s allies.

It allows about 20 million visitors a year, including 13 million from the EU, to enter the US without a visa for 90 days if they are travelling for business or tourism.

Mr O’Sullivan said that compulsory biometric checks at the point of departure would represent “the de facto introduction of a visa regime in all but name”.

Such “indiscriminate action” would be “counterproductive” and could “trigger legally-mandated reciprocal measures”, he said.