Skip to comments.Lawmakers move to expand visa waivers to boost foreign tourism
Posted on 05/29/2012 5:12:01 PM PDT by Libloather
Lawmakers move to expand visa waivers to boost foreign tourism
By Vicki Needham - 05/29/12 05:00 AM ET
As the summer tourism season kicks into full gear, Congress and the Obama administration are making progress to expand and expedite visa programs as a path to boosting job creation and economic growth in the United States.
Retail and travel-industry advocates, as well as lawmakers, are narrowing their legislative focus to adding new countries and greater security protections to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows tourists and business travelers from 36 countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.
The National Retail Federation appreciates the attention that the State Department and the administration have placed on improving the visa process as a means to increase foreign travel to the United States," said Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the trade association.
Recapturing the market share we have lost over the past 10 years in foreign travel will be a much-needed boost to the U.S. economy and all of the travel-related industries who rely on these travelers," he said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee took a step on Tuesday, approving language as part of the Homeland Security appropriations bill to modernize the existing visa waiver program, created 26 years ago, which mirrors legislation introduced in the Senate and the House.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), along with Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), have sponsored legislation in their respective chambers and have pressed for the provision that, they say, would pave the way for Poland to join the waiver program.
Travelers using the visa waiver program increased 8 percent last year, but it is still underperforming, lawmakers say.
Mikulski has been on the forefront of pushing for Poland's membership along with other U.S. allies still excluded under current law.
"I fought to ensure that we expand this important program in a way that keeps our borders secure while allowing travelers who want nothing other than to see family, conduct business or tour our great country to do so without going through a long and expensive process," she said.
The legislation heads to the Senate for consideration, but no action has been scheduled.
"Moving from the subjective visa refusal rate to the more objective overstay rate and requiring additional information-sharing will allow Poland to join the VWP while ensuring U.S. national security is protected," Lipinski said.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) recently proposed a bill that would let Israelis into the visa waiver program, a measure backed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
President Obama has said he supports the program's expansion and administration officials are looking at adding Vietnam to the program, while also examining Brazil's potential entry.
The push to accelerate legislation to boost tourism stems from the United States losing travel market share during the past decade.
Between 2000 and 2010, the global travel market grew by 40 percent, yet the U.S. share of the market has fallen to 12 from 17 percent because of an inefficient visa process, lawmakers and travel-industry advocates argue.
Tourism is expected to increase by 4 to 5 percent a year for the next five years, with an estimated 65.4 million foreign travelers expected to visit the United States this year, and travel and business groups are looking to reap the benefits of their spending at hotels, restaurants and stores.
And international arrivals around the world are projected to grow by 36 percent by 2020, resulting in $2.2 trillion in direct travel spending and 62 million jobs.
"This presents enormous opportunity for destination nations which choose to embrace it," said Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, in a letter this week.
"Unlike many other nations, for many years the United States has left that potential revenue on the table," Dow said.
Foreign visitors spend, on average, $4,200 during their trips here, with visitors from some countries like China spending upward of $6,000 during their stay, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Last year, international spending on U.S travel hit a record $153 billion, an 8.1 percent increase from 2010.
In a letter this week to House lawmakers, Quigley and Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), the Discover America Partnership, a coalition of travel groups including U.S. Travel and NRF and dozens of others specifically expressed support for the Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act to help improve several aspects of visa processing.
We believe the JOLT Act is a critical piece to the continued effort to reform the visa process to ensure that foreign travelers who want to come to the United States to visit and shop in our stores have the opportunity to do so," Gold said.
On May 15, a revised, more streamlined JOLT measure, written in consultation with the Homeland Security and State departments, was introduced in the Senate.
The bill would create a pilot program for expedited visa processing and to charge fees to pay for it, encourage longer visits by Canadians, make changes to the visa waiver program and increase visa processing capacity in China and Brazil.
The results are clear.
From ramped-up efforts by the State and Homeland Security departments to speed up visa wait times in China and Brazil, they have been cut to less than one week for appointments at U.S. consulates in those two countries, well within the parameters outlined in pending legislation.
"Facing these challenges, the United States has recently begun to make significant progress," Dow said.
Travelers from China and Brazil increased by 33 and 18 percent, respectively, last year, with a large growth potential, advocates say.
Overall, 7.5 million visas were issued for foreign travelers to enter the United States in 2011, a 17 percent increase over the previous year.
In February, more than 4.2 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a 9 percent increase over the same month a year ago and the 11th straight month of increases in total U.S. visits, according to the Commerce Department.
To further help the cause outside of Congress, the White House earlier this month launched a tourism plan that calls on federal departments and agencies to coordinate efforts to attract 100 million foreign tourists who could pump an estimated $250 billion into the U.S. economy by 2021.
"Taken together, these measures will go a long way to restore Americas competitiveness and our balance of trade in the world travel market," Dow said.
moving into an election cycle ... 0failure’s hopes looking bleak...
he could sure use an ‘event’ around September / October ... blamed on someone on the right
just like Spain’s elections a few years ago
this just feeds into it
Lawmakers move to expand visa waivers to boost foreign
Right now, getting a US visa can take a lot of time and money. So, travellers don't bother coming as tourists -- it hurts our tourism industry.
Eliminate that and have a visa on arrival like Hong Kong has and we get more tourists.
and, I repeat -- illegals won't come in this way -- why do that when they can walk across the border?
>administration officials are looking at adding Vietnam to the program,
LOL because so much of our tourism & economic health is dependent on tourism from piss poor Communist Vietnam
Is this a bad time to point out that the 9/11 hijackers had perfectly valid visas when they entered this country?
nope. But that tells us that the visa vetting process isn’t enough to keep out terrorists, so why keep that to discourage tourists?
Agreed, but our “betters” will not improve the system for legitimate tourists any where near as much as they will improve it for hostiles.