US Visa Restrictions and EU's Concerns

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Azadeh Taheri
Expert on European affairs

The new law that requires citizens of the 38 countries to get a visa to enter the US, if they have recently visited Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan, soon became a subject of controversy.

Although US visa restrictions have been claimed to be a matter of security concern, it was not welcomed by European allies. EU has protested to the law that tightens visa procedures for some visitors and even threatened to take retaliatory actions.

EU and US disagreement about the visa restrictions, is a complicated issue and it should be seen mostly as EU dissatisfaction with Americans unilateral action that restricts EU citizens from the visa-free travel system to the US.

Besides EU and US trade relations, this new law that excludes anyone who has traveled to Iran, Syria, Iraq and Sudan since 5 years ago from the visa-free travel system to the US, can be a matter of concern for the European businessmen who are looking for Iran’s market after the sanctions are lifted.

That is while EU still concerns that the remaining US sanctions against Iran like sanctions on Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, even after the nuclear agreement goes into effect, will sabotage doing business with Iran. Undermining EU competitiveness in Iran’s big and growing markets, while other countries like Russia and china are trying to secure their market shares, is not good news for European companies for sure. As a European official told the Financial Times, European businessmen will be more reluctant to go to Iran if that would then make it harder for them to visit the US.

Financial crisis in euro zone and economic confrontation with Russia, that is EU natural and strategic partner, have already increased European investors' appetite for new market opportunities.

Russia is the EU's biggest neighbor and its third biggest trading partner and also its main supplier of natural gas, but Ukraine crisis has a serious impact on this geopolitical relationship. West and Russia have suffered from this confrontation so that is why finding new market and another energy supplier like Iran, is crucial for Europeans.

Europe and Iran have great possibilities to improve relations in different areas especially in industrial equipments, machinery and of course energy.

Besides trade and economic cooperation, normalization of relation with Iran could help EU to deal with its security concerns. Increasing terrorism threats after Paris attacks, and before that refugee crisis, have troubled European leaders. Defeating ISIS and resolving Mideast crisis that made thousands people flee to Europe, need an important ally like Iran. After more than four years of civil war in Syria and emerging strong and complicated terrorism phenomena, now everyone knows that dealing with this multidimensional problem, should be done with international and regional cooperation, and that is why Iran’s role cannot and should not be denied.

Impacts of US visa restriction on implementation of the July nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)) with Iran, is another source of concern that make Europeans’ unease grows. Signatories of this agreement are committed to refrain from any action and policy that would negatively affect this historic deal. Now that US lawmakers have approved a bill that excludes those who has traveled and will travel to Iran and Barak Obama has signed this legislation, Iran calls the new US visa law a breach of the nuclear deal and some European officials think that Iran could have a legitimate complaint.

White House knows all of these concerns and that is why US tried to assure its European partners that will carry out all the commitments under the nuclear deal and will not prevent legitimate business with Iran. It seems EU does not want this unilateral action that is the result of election competition between Republicans and Democrats in US sacrifice its interests.

*Photo Credit: Citylab

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.