Revamped Visa Waiver Bill Hits Congress
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The United States government understands the importance of the travel industry, and officials have introduced a bill to Congress looking to promote more international tourism while still ensuring national security.
According to Steve Tetreault of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the new bill is actually just a reworked version of the JOLT Act (Jobs Originating through Launching Travel Act). It will require countries that want to apply for the visa waiver program to pass airport security regulations and make upgrades to passports and other travel documentation.
The rewritten version of the bill has been called the “Secure Travel Partnership Program.”
The bill was originally met with uncertainty from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, but it was reworked to address both safety concerns and the fact that the State Department has already sped up the visa waiver program for other key nations.
Republican representative Joe Heck (Nevada) spoke to Tetreault about the changes to the bill:
“It’s difficult because there is a lot of concern about foreign travelers in general. It’s a much more difficult environment now than it was two years ago. But we think by utilizing electronic passports and the visa waiver program you actually increase the level of security and safety and that’s the angle we’re going to pursue moving the bill forward. There are still provisions in there that we think will increase international travel and tourism.”
The U.S. Travel Association has been pushing hard for this bill after the travel industry saw 19.5 million travelers (61 percent of all overseas visitors) enter the United States using the visa waiver program in 2013. There are already 38 nations who participate in the program, but the U.S. Travel Association is pushing to increase that number, according to Tetreault.
The biggest focus now for lawmakers is ensuring national security. The new version of the bill includes mandatory security standards for all countries, as opposed to the discretionary regulations enforced with the nations already involved in the program now.
While there is more of a focus on security, Tetreault reports that the travel industry will also be looking for government officials to, “to expand the Global Entry Program that allows pre-approved low-risk ‘trusted travelers’ to bypass traditional customs inspections and use automated kiosks instead.”
Safety is the top priority for many travelers, but speed of the trip through the airport is also a major concern. If this new bill can help satisfy international visitors arriving in the United States and still protect the American people, this is a win-win situation for the government and the travel industry.
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