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Originally published Friday, September 24, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Europeans angered by new U.S. fee for foreign visitors

European Union lawmakers criticized the U.S. for imposing a $14 fee on foreign visitors, raising the possibility of retaliation.

Bloomberg News

European Union lawmakers are criticizing the United States for imposing a $14 fee on foreign visitors, raising the possibility of retaliation with a levy on American travelers to the EU.

The U.S. introduced the tax earlier in September on visitors from 36 countries — including Western European nations, Japan and Australia — who don't need a visa to enter the U.S. It will fund tourism promotion under a law sought by companies such as Marriott, Walt Disney and American Express.

Travelers face the charge when they have to preregister online to visit the U.S. for as long as 90 days without a visa. The fee is payable once during a two-year period.

"A new type of visa has been invented," Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, said during a recent debate on the U.S. measure.

"It's unbelievable. It's a unique business model; they are getting consumers to pay for advertisements."

The American tourism industry is betting the fee will help overcome a 2.4 million decline in overseas visitors last year from 25.9 million in 2000, according to a U.S. Travel Association report. President Barack Obama signed legislation in March to institute the charge, which the association had pushed for since 2007.

The travel-promotion fee is $10, with the Homeland Security Department taking $4 for application processing. The law expires Sept. 30, 2015. Visitors have to register, and pay, before entering the U.S. through what's called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization

"This is very counterproductive," said Jim Higgins, an Irish member of the 27-nation EU Parliament. "It's going to do damage to the U.S. and its tourism industry." Austrian member Evelyn Regner called the U.S. charge "discriminatory and unfriendly."

The European Commission, the EU's regulatory arm responsible for managing the bloc's visa policy and for proposing laws, left open the possibility of a similar tax on U.S. visitors to Europe.

"We are examining all measures," Maros Sefcovic, the commissioner in charge of EU inter-institutional relations, told the Parliament.

For information on the preregistration and fee, see the official U.S. website at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/

Kristin Jackson of Seattle Times Travel contributed to this report.

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