Eliminate Visa Waiver Program? A Shortsighted Solution

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Did you catch the spectacle that was the Republican presidential debate yesterday? A huge topic of discussion was when Americans could go back to feeling safe again. The theatrics were too much for me to handle and the rhetoric that we are under siege was absurd. If I was to believe what some of the candidates were saying, I should be in a fallout shelter right now instead of writing this post.

Whether you agree with me or not, the purpose of this post is not to discuss American foreign policy, a topic of which I enjoy a lively debate. The purpose is to discuss the unintended effects from protectionist measures that provide a false sense of security while hurting those that benefit from integration.

To be clear, I am speaking of the proposal to eliminate the Visa Waiver Program which allows Europeans to come to the United States without a visa for 90 days as tourists or in limited capacity on business. Even before the attacks in Paris, there have been calls to restrict this program and require Europeans to obtain a visa before setting foot on American soil. The idea has since gained traction as one of the gunmen posed as a Syrian refugee to gain access to Europe. The fear is that others will follow suit, become European citizens, and then use their European citizenship to come to the United States to carry out an attack. Though possible, this is quite a stretch. The more pressing concern is that Europeans who have  been radicalized at home could easily and conveniently come to the US to do the same. The solution, therefore, is to require all Europeans to have a visa so that those up to no good can be properly screened.

Requiring a visa would be ludicrous for many reasons: First, the hurdle of filling out paperwork may stop potheads from coming to the US but it is not a deterrent for those on a mission of destruction. Second, assume a group like ISIS was plotting an attack. What are the chances that a) they would send someone over with a rap sheet that lists ‘terrorist’ as the profession b) they aren’t savvy enough to falsify documents if that person was in ‘the system’ or c) they wouldn’t send someone over that is squeaky clean? Finally, and most importantly, what do you think would happen if the US eliminated its visa waiver program? Obviously, Europe would do the same. From there the fear mongering politicians would say that terrorists can come from Asia, let’s tighten visa restrictions there. Maybe they’ll come from Canada (some of the hijackers did cross through the US-Canadian border before September 11th) let’s build a wall there.

This short-sighted thinking may be marginally effective but would tremendously hurt tourists and business travelers alike. As a tourist, I hate visas and have been tripped up by them on too many occasions. As a result, I try to avoid traveling to countries that impose them. How inconvenient would it be if you couldn’t capitalize on a mistake fare or better yet book an obscenely cheap rewards ticket during an AARP Avios sale because you first had to obtain a visa? The counter argument is that this is a small price to pay to ‘stay safe’.

From a business standpoint, eliminating the Visa Waiver Program would go against basic economic principles. Setting up barriers to trade results in dead weight loss that would hurt the already fragile global economy. Now, the price to pay to ‘stay safe’ has gone up.

The bottom line is that there are evil people in this world both foreign and domestic that seek to create chaos and interrupt the current of modern society. Their mission is to go back to the Stone Age when dictators ruled and the people lived in fear. Why assist them in doing so?

Looking to go to Barcelona? You'll need a visa. I guess I'll go to Macon, Georgia instead.
Looking to go to Barcelona? You’ll need a visa. I guess I’ll go to Macon, Georgia instead.

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