Virginia, US

As an American, I know first hand how valuable it is to have visa-exempt status in the Schengen area – when I first came to Europe I would visit for up to 90 days with frequent trips home and later, when I settled here more permanently, I used my visa-free term to be present in the Netherlands while I prepared my residence permit application. After my most recent relocation, this time to Belgium, I am again dependent on my visa-free time to facilitate travel in and out of the Schengen area while my application is pending.

Visa travel is incredibly convenient and is something that most North Americans take for granted, and that employers of North Americans have come to depend on. As immigration practitioners, we often strategically use the visa-free term for convenience and to benefit our clients.

All of this could change by this autumn. On 12 April 2016, the European Commission adopted a policy paper urging the European Parliament and the European Council to assess a suspension of the short-stay visa waiver policy for nationals from Brunei, Canada, and the United States. The European Commission asked the European Parliament and Council to issue a decision by 12 July 2016. The move, which is based on the fact that the US, Canada, and Brunei do not allow reciprocal visa-free travel by nationals of some EU member states, could be implemented within 90 days after the final decision and last for up to 12 months.

Implications of visa waiver suspension

The European Commission has to consider political, economic and administrative implications of the visa waiver suspension in its assessment. Fragomen issued a client alert with details about the assessment that can be found here, summarizing the Commission’s finding that “it is highly unlikely that EU member states would be able to process the increased number of visa applications as required (within 90 days following the implementation of the visa requirements) and that such visa requirements could result in a decrease in the number of travellers from Brunei, Canada, and the United States. The suspension would also likely entail significant economic consequences, notably for the aviation industry, and would have a substantial impact on the European Union's external relations.”

As a result, the suspension of visa-free travel for Americans and Canadians could be too costly; economically and administratively, but especially on a political level. Should North American travellers be required to obtain Schengen visas there will certainly be a decrease in travel and an increase in outraged rhetoric. However, the requirement of reciprocity is an established principal and the recent decision by the US government to eliminate ESTA travel for some dual nationals and for those who have travelled to hot spots like Syria has not been helpful. It is difficult to predict the final assessment on the basis of the current controversy.

We are watching the July decision closely. After the results of the UK Brexit referendum, this may well turn out to be the next hot immigration topic. Fragomen’s Brussels office is in close contact with local policy advisors and will be posting updates as they become available. If you want to begin planning for a possible change now, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at beneluxinfo@fragomen.com.