US won't add countries to visa-free travel list despite EU threat

US won't add countries to visa-free travel list despite EU threat
© Getty Images

The Obama administration won’t consider expanding the list of countries whose citizens can enter the United States without a visa even as European Union officials consider revoking visa-free travel for Americans.

The State Department on Friday told reporters that the administration would not consider allowing five EU nations into the group of 38 countries allowed to travel visa-free to the U.S. unless they first met a series of standards.


“Fundamentally, they just haven’t met the requirements for the visa waiver program,” spokesman Mark Toner said. “What we’re trying to convey to them is we are more than wiling to work proactively with these countries to help them address some of the issues that are preventing them from obtaining visa-free travel to the United States.”

The impasse threatens to jeopardize Americans’ current ability to travel throughout the 28-nation EU without a visa, since European officials have maintained that the system should be reciprocal.

The European Commission is expected to consider whether to change the rules Tuesday. According to one source speaking to Reuters, there is a “real risk” that Europe will change its border standards and require American travelers to obtain visas before visiting the bloc of nations.

While most EU nations are within the group of countries eligible for the U.S.’s visa waiver program, five are not: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. The program allows people from 38 other nations — in Europe, Asia and elsewhere — to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.

The five EU nations have yet to meet the security and administrative standards of the visa-free tourism program, the State Department said, preventing their inclusion.

“These are requirements that are set by law,” Toner maintained. “They have to be addressed on a case-by-case, bilateral basis.”

The debate comes at an awkward time, just before President Obama is scheduled to travel to Europe later this month to promote, among other things, a potential U.S.-European trade deal.

Scrutiny on the U.S. visa waiver program has mounted in recent months as American officials have hoped to narrow its scope out of security concerns following November’s terror attacks in Paris.