Here’s what the EU travel ban means for Americans abroad, if it goes through

On Thursday, members of the European Parliament voted to approve a resolution that calls for United States citizens to have visas before traveling to any country in the European Union. Currently, Americans can freely go to Europe on only a U.S. passport. This could totally change that, but it’s important to understand the real deal.

Here’s a breakdown of what that means.

Why is the EU doing this?

Some experts suggest that the action is occurring because of US rules on travel by EU citizens. As it is now, EU citizens can come to the U.S. without a visa, unless they’re citizens of one of these five countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Cyprus. So the European Parliament may be getting the European Commission to issue sanctions on U.S. travel until they cooperate.

Why does the U.S. exempt those countries from visa-free travel? 

The simple answer is that the U.S. thinks these countries have not met the requirements to be entered into the visa waiver program. Of course, foreign diplomacy is very complicated. There are many factors at play, including the fact that some of these countries are still relatively new to the EU. The Telegraph received this response from a State Department official:

"The program is open to countries that have very low non-immigrant visitor visa refusal rates and immigration violations, issue secure travel documents, and work closely with U.S. law enforcement and security authorities."

What does it mean for travel? 

In the short term, not a lot. The European Parliament resolution calls for the European Commission to start taking legal measures within two months. But that deadline isn’t finite, CNN reports. If the Commission complies, a 2-year ticking clock to remove America’s visa waiver status starts.

As Uproxx reports, we may get a preview as to how the policy is implemented, as the EU handles the time-sensitive issue of UK visitors entering when Brexit takes full effect.

In the long term, travel obstacles hurt tourism on both sides. But as Uproxx points out, the U.S. has more to lose. 12.6 million American tourists visited Europe in 2015, out of 607.7 million tourists in Europe overall. Meanwhile, 14 million Europeans visited the U.S. out of just 75 million total. That gives the EU more bargaining power.

On principle alone, the loss of free movement without visas would be a blow to how we live now. On the other hand, maybe that’s how Poland and Romania feel. Regardless, this issue will be an interesting test of how the US government responds to a diplomatic problem.