The Trump administration has announced that it will review the US visa-waiver programme, which currently allows European passport holders to travel to America without a visa.
During an appearance at George Washington University this week, the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, said rules allowing Europeans to travel to the US without a visa should be reviewed, citing concerns over terrorism.
“We have to start looking very hard at that [visa-waiver] program,” he said. “Not eliminating it and not doing anything excessive, but look very hard at that program.”
Thousands of European passport holders have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for the so-called Islamic State and Kelly said he feared the US visa-waiver programme could be exploited by terrorists looking to carry out attacks on US soil.
“We are the Super Bowl in terms of terrorists,” he said. “That's where they want to come.”
However, the announcement will be seen by many as an escalation of the ongoing visa war between the US and EU, which recently voted to suspend visa-free travel for American citizens.
Most EU countries are included within the US visa-waiver programme, but Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Cyprus are not. This lack of reciprocity from Washington led the European Parliament to vote to suspend visa-free travel for US citizens.
Theoretically, the US has until May to address the current imbalance – or face the prospect of its citizens having to apply for visas to travel around the EU.
In reality, making it harder for US citizens to travel around the EU – and vice versa – is neither appealing to Washington or Brussels.
“We are very concerned about the economic and political impact of a suspension of visa waiver for US nationals,” said Eduardo Santander, executive director of the European Travel Commission (ETC), in a letter to MEPs.
The US also has much to lose: its tourism industry is smarting from various Trump administration policies – including the two failed travel bans – which have so far served to discourage holidaymakers from visiting America.
According to Tourism Economics, a forecasting firm used by the travel industry, the US is set to see a 10.6 million decline in visitors over the next two years. The drop would cost the US economy an estimated $18 billion and about 107,000 jobs, it calculated.
Kelly’s announcement came as Emirates announced that it would be slashing services to the US due to reduced demand.