Canadian visitors to Europe could require visas as of July 12 if dispute isn’t resolved

Canadians planning a trip to the European Union this summer may be required to get a visa if a dispute over the way Canada treats some EU citizens isn’t resolved by then.

Visas are generally used to control the flow of people into a country and to prevent unwanted visitors, and Canada exempts dozens of countries from its visa requirements, including most EU member states.

However, Canada still requires nationals from Bulgaria and Romania — both EU members — to obtain visas before they travel here, resulting in a simmering dispute that threatens to boil over just as the summer travel season kicks into high gear.

In 2014, a reciprocity clause was included in the EU’s Schengen legislation, which allows EU members to function as a single country for international travel purposes. This clause states that visa-free access to EU countries can only be granted to citizens of a third country if that third country offers visa-free access to all EU citizens in return.

This has become a sticking point with Canada as well as the United States, which requires visas for nationals from Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Poland.

Under EU rules, if full reciprocity isn’t granted within 24 months then the visa waiver for citizens of non-compliant countries can be suspended. This could happen for Canadian and U.S. visitors on July 12 if an agreement isn’t reached by then. (The policy wouldn’t apply to the U.K. or Ireland.)

On Thursday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the world’s airlines, urged the Canadian, U.S. and EU governments to quickly resolve the “looming crisis.”

“Nobody wants to risk the economic consequences of introducing new requirements for travellers from Canada and the U.S. to Europe,” Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s regional vice-president for Europe, said in a statement.

“We are calling on the EU institutions to agree upon a proportionate approach, in cooperation with their U.S. and Canadian counterparts.”

According to the European Travel Commission, more than 30 million tourists from Canada and the U.S. visit Europe each year, spending more than US$54 billion.

A spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the country is “committed to working towards visa-free travel for all EU citizens,” and is making the visa application process easier for Romanian and Bulgarian business travellers and those who have visited Canada in the past 10 years.

“Canadian officials in Ottawa and Brussels have and continue to be heavily engaged in a very positive, ongoing dialogue with Romania, Bulgaria and the European Commission on this issue,” department spokesman Remi Larivière said in an email.

Air Canada did not immediately reply to a request for comment on how EU visa requirements could impact travel demand.

The European Commission has asked the European Parliament and Council to share their views on what should be done by July 12 at the latest.

“Full visa reciprocity will stay high on the agenda of our bilateral relations with these countries, and we will continue pursuing a balanced and fair outcome,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, Europe’s commissioner of home affairs, migration and citizenship.

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