In 2021, the European Union will launch its own visa waiver programme, known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS. Visa waiver programmes are designed to facilitate the movement of citizens of certain countries to other regions of the world without the need to apply for a traditional visa. These programmes not only foment tourism and trade in the host country - as well as provide a healthy stimulus to the economy - but they also encourage cooperation and collaboration among nations when it comes to questions of security and the fight against terrorism.

Benefits of Visa Waiver Programmes

Visa waiver programmes are becoming more common across the world. Evidence has shown that facilitating travel through visa waiver programmes encourages tourism, which in turn may also yield opportunities for economic growth. According to the U.S. Travel Association, for example, overseas visitors spend an average of $4,400 while in the U.S. - in 2012 alone tourists spent nearly $130 billion.

But that’s not the only reason for the growing popularity of visa waiver programmes. In a world where the fight against terrorism and other security threats are top issues, visa waiver programmes allow for distinct countries to collaborate more closely in the global fight against terror.

Members that belong to a visa waiver programme typically share pertinent data with each other and also share information regarding travelers who may pose a security or terrorism threat, allowing terrorists and other criminals to be more easily detected.

With the potential for economic growth and collaboration on security issues being so great, it’s no wonder that many countries around the world (including the European Union with its brand new ETIAS) have already started exploring the implementation of their own visa waiver programmes.

What are some of the best-known visa waiver programmes in the world?

More and more regions of the world are beginning to implement their own visa waiver programmes. Probably one of the best-known visa waiver programmes is the one currently used in the United States. Under this programme, citizens from 38 countries who are interested in traveling to the United States for business or tourism purposes can apply for an electronic travel authorization, known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). After filling out the ESTA application and receiving the approval, visitors can stay for up to 90 days. First launched in the late 1980s, the American visa waiver programme has been considered widely successful and has helped regenerate the tourist industry after the slump it suffered in the early 2000s.

As of March 2016, the Canadian government has also implemented a visa waiver programme. Potential visitors must apply for the Canada eTA (Electronic Travel Authorization) visa which authorizes travel to or transit through Canada. This multiple-entry authorization is valid for three years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever date comes first. Extending to citizens of 52 countries, the Canadian eTA allows visitors a maximum stay of up to six months. In addition to the opportunities for economic growth, Canadian authorities also hope to reduce the number of foreign nationals that are found inadmissible to the country.

Although these two are the most popular programmes, other countries also have these types of visa waiver programmes (also known as eVisas), including Australia, Kenya, Vietnam, Turkey and India.

Travel visa for Europe: ETIAS and European safety

The European Union (E.U.) is the latest region to implement their own visa waiver programme. Slated for launch in 2021, applicants for the ETIAS for travel to Europe will pay a nominal fee in order to fill out an ETIAS application to obtain authorisation prior to traveling to a European member of the Schengen area. This will mean more rigorous control over who is admitted to the E.U. as well as more paperwork for tourists interested in visiting these countries.

The E.U. will join a list of regions that seek to reap the benefits of visa waiver programmes. The reality is that today’s world is prone to breaches in security and terrorist threats. It’s clear that a balance between safety and facilitating travel must be struck: security checks must be in place without being so unreasonable as to discourage traveling (and fomenting fear) in the first place. Visa waiver programmes have helped increase tourism and spur economic growth, as well as encourage collaboration when it comes to safeguarding against terrorism and other security threats.