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EU slams US tourist fee as back-door visa

Senior EU officials have criticized a $14 fee for visitors to the United States, saying it amounts to a back-door visa and is inconsistent with agreed visa-waiver deals.

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REUTERS - Plans by the United States to charge travellers a $14 fee for its visa waiver programme are regrettable and inconsistent with a U.S. commitment to ease transatlantic travel, the European Union said on Friday.

The levy will be required from Sept. 8, when an interim U.S. rule covering the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) becomes effective, the European Commission said.

"I regret very much the fee established by the interim rule," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement, saying she had repeatedly raised concerns about the introduction of a fee that may deter or complicate travel.

"I remain convinced that these new requirements ... are inconsistent with the commitment of the U.S. to facilitate transatlantic mobility and will be an additional onus for European citizens travelling to the U.S.," she said.

The ESTA system requires travellers to complete an online application form, answering questions they previously had to respond to on paper forms aboard flights or ships bound for the United States.

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