Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, applauded members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for passing S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The legislation included important travel-related measures that would help increase international travel to the United States and thereby boost U.S. economic growth and job creation, Dow said.
"We commend members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving an immigration overhaul package that recognizes the importance of travel on U.S. economic growth and job creation. The travel-related measures included in the Committee-passed bill will help travel continue to lead as America's number one services export and to serve as a vital source of jobs and economic activity."
Dow also called for careful consideration of a provision that requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement biometric exit tracking at America's 10 busiest airports within two years of enactment of the legislation.
"The U.S. Travel Association has long supported strengthening and maintaining America's ability to effectively confirm the departure of international visitors as they leave the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security has made great strides in collecting biographic data from departing international visitors and matching those against entry records to identify visitors who have overstayed their visa.
"Current law requires DHS to implement a biometric exit tracking system, but technical and logistical challenges, along with inadequate funding, have postponed its implementation. Given DHS's progress on strengthening exit tracking using biographical information, U.S. Travel urges Congress to carefully consider both the scale of the investment required as well as the technical and logistical hurdles that must be crossed to effectively implement biometric exit tracking at leading U.S. gateway airports."
The travel-facilitation provisions in the Committee-approved immigration legislation include:
• Expansion of the highly successful Visa Waiver Program that enhances U.S. security while welcoming more visitors to the United States;
• Adoption of a more accurate method of calculating visa overstay rates;
• Adoption of measures to encourage more travel from Canada;
• Expansion of the tested and proven Global Entry program that allows preapproved, low-risk international travelers the ability to utilize an expedited clearance process upon entry into the United States. Expediting entry for "trusted travelers" enables U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel to focus inspection resources on unknown or higher risk travelers;
• A requirement to reduce visa wait times to facilitate more and easier travel for international visitors; Authorization of the use of secure videoconferencing to conduct visa interviews by authorizing a pilot program to test feasibility, which would provide increased access to a U.S. visa for potential travelers;
• Authorization to make Hong Kong eligible to apply for membership into the Visa Waiver Program, putting the United States one step closer toward preferred access to the valuable Hong Kong travel market; and
• Authorization to hire 3,500 new officers to support CBP, positions that will help improve the entry process for international visitors to the United States.