PHOTO: Are changes coming to the visa waiver program? (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Europeans could potentially face new challenges in traveling to the U.S. under the Trump administration.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently hinted that changes could be coming to the visa waiver program that allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without having secured a visa.
"We have to start looking very hard at that [visa waiver] program," Kelly said during an appearance at George Washington University on Tuesday via CNN Money. "Not eliminating it and not doing anything excessive, but look very hard at that program."
Kelly cited terrorism concerns for the need to review the program, likening the U.S. to the Super Bowl in terms of where terrorists want to go.
The fear is that European passport holders who have fought for ISIS in the Middle East may use the program to gain access to the U.S.
Any notable changes to the program could have a significant impact, as it covers dozens of countries across Europe and around the world, including the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia and South Korea, among others. Euromonitor reported 14 million Europeans covered by the visa waiver program traveled to the U.S. in 2015.
A dip in visitors from Europe would only further compound the travel and tourism sector's concerns in wake of Trump's proposed travel ban, which almost immediately resulted in a decline in international bookings to the U.S.
Restrictive changes to the visa waiver program could also be met with similar moves by the European Union (EU) that make it harder for Americans to travel to Europe. European lawmakers have already sought to rescind visa-free travel for U.S. citizens to the continent after the U.S. refused to grant visa-free access to citizens of Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.
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"The road linking the citizens of Europe and U.S. has to remain open," said EU commissioner for migration and home affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos in a statement via CNN Money. "At the same time, it has to be closed to those who put in danger our security."
In 2015, the program's rules were changed so that citizens of participating countries who had been to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, were no longer eligible for visa-free travel to the U.S.
Even under the current program, travelers to the U.S. must be authorized under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The process takes three days but can be completed online.