U.S. Travel Association, ATA Back New Visa Reform Legislation
By James Shillinglaw
September 26, 2011 10:24 PM
The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) and the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) are supporting new legislation just introduced by Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), H.R. 3039, the "Welcoming Business Travelers and Tourists to America Act of 2011" that would address problems with the U.S. visa system that are currently discouraging international visitors from doing business and traveling here.
"Increasing travel to the United States is the most effective form of economic stimulus, and we can create more than a million jobs by reforming our visa system and welcoming more international travelers to the U.S.,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the USTA. "The travel industry has strongly advocated for visa reform legislation such as the 'Welcoming Business Travelers and Tourists to America Act of 2011,' and we commend Congressman Heck for introducing this important legislation. We look forward to working with other members of the House to gain support for its passage."
The ATA also praised Rep. Heck for his work in making travel to the United States easier. “Congressman Heck recognizes the importance of aviation and tourism to our economy and competitiveness as a country,” said ATA President and CEO Nicholas Calio. "This bill would eliminate many of the barriers and frustrations faced by potential international visitors to the United States without compromising our national security, and should be enacted as soon as possible. Expanding access to rapidly growing global markets through an improved visa process is a key pillar of a much-needed National Airline Policy that would address the regulatory, tax and infrastructure issues that prevent the airline industry from contributing even more to the global economy and job creation.”
A USTA survey of 1,500 travelers from Brazil, China and India showed that an overwhelming majority of travelers found the U.S. a difficult place to visit. Among the key highlights of the bill is a 12-day visa processing standard and the implementation of a videoconferencing pilot for visa interviews. While the U.S. State Department currently has a goal of interviewing all visa applicants within 30 days of their application submission, it has failed to meet this performance standard in key markets– a problem that continues to grow as demand rises. Heck's legislation sets a 12-day processing standard and directs the Secretary of State to use nonimmigrant visa fees to hire foreign service consular officers in China, Brazil and India to meet that standard.
Travelers who do not live in a city where a U.S. consulate is located must incur hundreds or thousands of dollars in expenses to complete a mandatory face-to-face interview. The lack of accessibility to consular offices is an issue in China, Brazil and India. In fact, there are 27 cities in China and eight in India with more than two million inhabitants that do not have a U.S. visa processing center. The Heck bill directs the Secretary of State to implement a visa videoconferencing pilot program for conducting visa interviews.
Since 2000, USTA said long-haul arrivals to the U.S. have increased by less than 2 percent, from nearly 26 million to 26.4 million in 2010, despite a worldwide increase of 60 million long-haul travelers over the same decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. share of global long-haul travel fell from 17 percent to just 12.4 percent. According to the USTA, capturing America's historic share of worldwide overseas travel would create up to an additional 1.3 million U.S. jobs by 2020 compared with 2010 and produce $859 billion in cumulative additional economic output. For more information, visit www.smartervisapolicy.org.