A top European Union official told EU lawmakers on Wednesday the United States has assured him that plans to introduce a new online register for travelers to America would not impose a new visa restriction on Europeans.
Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, that negotiations beginning this week between EU and US officials would clarify the intentions of Washington’s plans to set up a web-based, pre-travel authorisation system for foreigners wanting to enter the United States.
“Apparently the United States will no longer require any other data than what is currently required when passengers fly to the United States,” said Mate. He said US officials told him the online form would be free of charge for travelers.
Once the travel application has been approved, the pass would be valid for use for two years, Mate said.
The online register is part of wider plans US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is set to introduce to beef up US border security.
Earlier this week, he also suggested that airlines and cruise-line operators take over responsibility to collect fingerprints from foreigners, a job currently done by border and customs officers.
EU officials have warned, however, that if the new online travel security document does represent a new visa requirement, the EU might introduce countermeasures for American visitors.
The US government has repeatedly reassured the EU that the new system would not amount to a new visa, but would simply replace the current forms Europeans have to fill out when they arrive in the US. Those green and white forms require visitors to supply the address where they will be staying and answer various questions, including whether they have been convicted of war crimes.
EU lawmakers demanded to know exactly how travelers would register under the new system, whether it would cost them any money and exactly what data would be collected.
“I want guarantees about how this will work in practice before we give our approval to giving everybody’s data to another country,” said Dutch EU lawmaker Sophie Int’Veld.
Separately, EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said European Commission negotiators are in Washington this week to find out exactly how the new pre-travel authorisation would work.
They also want to start a new round of talks to persuade US authorities to include all EU member states in the US visa waiver system, which would allow their citizens to travel to the United States for three months without obtaining a visa.
Greece and most new EU members from Eastern Europe are currently excluded from the program, meaning their citizens must apply for visas at US embassies or consulates in advance of travel – and may not always have visas granted to them. (AP)