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US citizens to get visas to visit EU

04 March, 2017

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BRUSSELS: In tit-for-tat move, the European Parliament on Thursday said US citizens would have to get visas to visit the EU as long as Washington refuses to allow permit-free travel for five of the bloc's countries.

A non-binding resolution passed by a show of hands said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, was "legally obliged to take measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for US citizens" within two months.

Any move to reintroduce visa requirements for US citizens would have to be approved by member states first, a process which could take years.

"Citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still cannot enter US territory without a visa, while US citizens can travel to all EU countries visa-free," a parliament statement said.

The commission should suspend the visa waiver system for US nationals for 12 months, it said. The commission discovered three years ago that the US was not meeting its obligations under the reciprocity agreement but has not yet taken any legal action. The latest vote, prepared by the civil liberties committee and approved by a plenary session of parliament, gives the Commission two months to act before MEPs can consider action in the European Court of Justice.

Australia, Brunei, Japan and Canada were also failing in their obligations, but all four have lifted, or are soon to lift, any visa restrictions on travel for EU citizens. The parliament statement noted that Canada also imposed visa requirements on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens but these restrictions were now due to be lifted in December.

The spat comes at a time when the European Union is keeping a wary eye on new US President Donald Trump who has attacked the EU, welcomed Brexit and imposed an immigrant ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, which was later overturned by a court.

A spokeswoman for EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos acknowledged the resolution and said she had resumed efforts to obtain full visa reciprocity during a recent visit to Washington. "Our approach of continued engagement and patient diplomatic contacts brought tangible results with Canada," the spokeswoman said. "Our assessment of the situation with the US has not changed and we will continue our discussions."

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