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U.S. Homeland chief defends $10 travel fee

Belgium EU US Travel Fee
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has defended U.S. government moves to impose a $10 dollar fee for tourists entering the United States. Virginia Mayo / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

European Parliament lawmakers on Friday demanded that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ease restrictions for Europeans traveling to the United States, saying plans to impose a new $10 (euro6.73), entry fee are unfair.

Citizens from many European Union countries already have to fill in an online visa waiver form before they travel to the U.S., but could face an additional charge when they arrive, which many EU officials and lawmakers fear amounts to a new visa restriction.

"The measures ... are even harder than they were under the previous (U.S.) government and that for us is a contradiction that we in the European Parliament cannot accept," Austrian lawmaker Ernst Strasser told Napolitano during a special hearing with her. "We really have to insist on our European values, that European data protection laws and European civil liberties also have to be taken account of."

Dutch lawmaker Sophie in't Veld urged Napolitano to review a controversial anti-terror pact between the EU and the U.S. which sees the transfer of data collected on trans-Atlantic air passengers to U.S. authorities to make sure the data is not being misused.

Many European lawmakers also urged Napolitano to persuade the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama to ditch the planned $10 fee.

Napolitano said she could accept a review of the existing transfer of airline passenger data deal, but rejected calls to drop the new fee, which the U.S. Congress passed in September, but still has to be signed by Obama.

"Unlike many of your countries, the United States does not have a separate agency to promote tourism and travel, and so the goal of this is to use that to actually fund and help tourists and travelers who wish to come to the United States," Napolitano said. "In that respect I think that it is not only reasonable but in these days of reduced government budgets, it's the way to fund that."

The United States began requiring people who do not need visas to enter America to register online at least 72 hours before travel and to renew their registration every two years. Under the proposed plan, visitors would have to pay the $10 fee when they register.

On top of this, Europeans along with many other international visitors to the U.S. face stepped up identity and travel checks that Washington imposed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Visitors already have to provide fingerprints to U.S. border guards when entering the country, and airlines they use forward data, including passenger names, addresses, seat numbers, credit card information and travel details.

EU lawmakers are angry because Americans visiting European countries such as France, Germany and Italy face no such fees or online checks.