How Proposed Travel Restrictions for Americans in Europe Would Hurt the Film Business, Festivals

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"They're completely nuts," says one producer about the European Parliament's vote to introduce visa requirements for all U.S. citizens traveling to Europe.

Amid the furor over President Donald Trump's travel ban for citizens of six Muslim-majority nations, news last week that Europe was considering tightening travel restrictions for Americans has gone largely unnoticed.

The European Parliament voted March 2 to reintroduce visa requirements for U.S. citizens traveling to Europe. The vote came in response to the U.S. refusing to grant visa-free travel to a handful of European Union countries, including Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. The European Parliament called on the European Commission, the EU's executive body, to make visas mandatory for U.S. visitors within two months.

So far, the Commission has only said it will “take note” of the move and has not yet announced plans to tighten travel restrictions for U.S. citizens.

But even the suggestion has alarmed the European film industry, which is warning of disaster if the proposal goes through.

"They're completely nuts," Marco Mehlitz, a German producer whose credits include David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method and Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, says about the EU politicians who voted for the new restrictions. "It will have a huge impact on our business. Visa restrictions like this will make everything about setting up projects and co-productions more complicated and difficult."

Mehlitz says visa-free travel across Europe allows producers to react quickly to set up projects and shift U.S. talent easily across borders to take advantage of Europe's generous system of tax incentives and film subsidies. The extra planning, and cost, of sorting out visas would add a burden to the already complicated, and risky, business of international co-production.

"Europe is only going to hurt its own business," agrees Jonathan Weissler, a British producer with over 20 years' experience working in the U.K. and internationally. But he argues that those with valid work contracts should still be OK, and that the ban will largely hit those “professional tourists” hoping to turn up and find employment.

If American citizens are required to obtain visas for all European travel, however, the impact could be much broader. It may be harder, and more costly, for U.S. executives and talent to travel to events like the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, for example.

Weissler sees the visa issue as part of a broader move by governments worldwide to "firm up" borders. Brexit, the U.K.'s planned exit from the border-less EU, could throw up new obstacles to travelers on both sides of the English Channel.

In the U.S., in addition to Trump's travel ban, the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced it is temporarily suspending expedited processing of H-1B visas, the visa of choice for American companies, including film companies, to quickly bring skilled immigrants to the U.S. for employment. The suspension goes into effect April 3 and may last up to six months, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website. The H-1B visa allows companies to get approval for a foreign hire within 15 days, not the months or longer the process can otherwise take.

"The world seems to be closing,” says Mehlitz. "And our business depends on things being open."

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