As part of his first-week restrictions on the flow of human beings into the United States, President Donald Trump is reviewing a draft executive order (read it here) that would "block all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and restrict admissions and some visa applicants for people from countries where the U.S. has counterterrorism concerns, not only Syria but also Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen," according to the L.A. Times.
This targeting of war-ravaged, refugee-generating countries would be a radical departure from four decades of bipartisan Washington leadership in the absorption and resettlement of refugees. But the draft order wouldn't just affect faraway Muslims in miserable countries—it could also constrict your own ability to travel hassle-free to London, Paris, and Rome. How? By
creating new restrictions on visitors from some of America's closest allies. It would suspend the visa waiver program — widely used by citizens from 38 countries, including most European countries, Australia, Japan and Chile — which grants citizens of those countries a 90-day tourist visa after they submit their biographical information to a screening check. The new policy would require in-person interviews for most citizens from those countries.
UPDATE: I (like the L.A. Times above) got this story wrong: It's not the Visa Waiver Program, it's the Visa Waiver Interview Program, which is an entirely different, and smaller, kettle of fish. It's a waiver from having to come in for an interview to renew a current visa, not a waiver from having to obtain a visa in the first place. I apologize for the error. The rest of the original post can be found after the jump:
The Visa Wavier program is by definition reciprocal—my French in-laws have been able to come here for three months any time they want to, and in return I have been able to visit Europe for the (considerable!) price of a ticket. If the U.S. was to begin requiring in-person interviews to the roughly 22 million people a year who currently enter this country through Visa Wavier, then the favor would likely soon be returned to the more than 12 million of us who travel to Europe. If you make a good more costly, whether in price, compliance, or time, people will purchase less of it.
That would be unwelcome news to the estimated 5.5 million people who work in the American travel and tourism industry (roughly the same number as in the automotive industry, to pluck one sector out of a hat). Visa Waiver travelers spend about $80 billion a year inside the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Visa Waiver program has been coming under political pressure for some time now. In the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks, senators such as Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) removed from the program anyone from a Visa Waiver country that is a dual citizen of, or has traveled within the last five years to, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Sudan. A new section on the Visa Waiver application form has been asking tourists this year to provide their usernames on various social media sites.
All of this is dwarfed in scope by suspending the entire program "indefinitely," and replacing it with a country-by-country certification process whose specs have yet to be ironed out. It's too early to say when and how American travelers will be inconvenienced by this proposed move, or whether it will amount to a measurable upgrade in security (will we be cockblocking Zacarias Moussaouis, or shifting terrorists' focus on the next Syed Farooks?). We can surmise, however, that if the order is adopted anything like how was written, fewer tourists will spend their money in the United States, Americans will soon have less latitude to frictionlessly move about the world, and the post-Cold War era of globalization will recede further into the rearview mirror.
* Again, this is the Visa Waiver Interview Program, not the Visa Waiver Program, and the original framing of this post was in error.