In its ongoing campaign to increase travel to the U.S., the U.S. Travel Association commended legislation by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that would create jobs by stimulating international travel to the United States.
The Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America (S.1746), or the VISIT USA Act, amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make improvements to the U.S. visa process, which is currently a major barrier to international business and leisure travelers seeking to travel to the U.S., U.S. Travel says.
“Increasing the amount of business and leisure travelers to the U.S. brings significant economic benefits to the U.S. economy, and the VISIT USA Act is comprehensive legislation that makes America competitive once again in the $1.1 trillion international travel market,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “We commend Senator Schumer and Senator Lee for this innovative bill, and we urge their Senate colleagues to quickly support this bill to create much needed U.S. jobs.”
The VISIT USA Act includes key directives for improving the U.S. visa system, U.S. Travel reports, including:
Five-Year Multiple-Entry Visas for Chinese Nationals – The bill includes a recommendation to allow Chinese nationals to receive five-year multiple-entry visitor visas. Currently, Chinese nationals must apply for new U.S. visas annually, while travelers from other countries can receive up to 10-year, multiple entry visas.
Premium Visa Process – A premium visa processing process is created to allow travelers the option of paying a much higher visa processing fee in order to receive a visa interview within three business days. This applies to both B-1 and B-2 visas (tourist and business travel visas). Currently, the State Department fails to meet its goal of processing visas within 30 days of an application submission in critical travel markets, with wait times reaching upwards of three months in countries like Brazil and China. Some applicants who need emergency travel to the U.S. are often prevented from taking a trip, and this provision provides an avenue to address this barrier. The fee assessed for premium visa processing will pay for additional staff, but can also be used to pay for innovative approaches such as videoconferencing technology and mobile interview teams to meet market demand in any country.
Visa Waiver Program Expansion – The bill allows the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to designate new program countries for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Citizens of VWP countries are allowed to travel to the U.S. under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program, rather than go through the more lengthy and complicated U.S. tourist visa application process. Other directives of the bill include: 1) adjusting the criteria for visa refusal rates to permit entry into the program if a country has a low visa overstay rate; 2) setting a maximum three percent visa overstay rate for program countries; and 3) revising probationary status and program termination provisions.
Videoconference Pilot Program – The Secretary of State is authorized to conduct a secure videoconferencing pilot program to conduct visa interviews, lowering the hassle and additional costs of obtaining a U.S. visa. Currently, an in-person interview is required of each applicant seeking a U.S. visa but millions of potential travelers do not live in a city where a U.S. Embassy or Consulate is present. This provision maintains the visa interview requirement, while allowing for greater access to conduct the interview via videoconferencing technology.
Encouraging Canadian Tourism to the U.S. – A new “Canadian retiree visa” (non-immigrant visa) is created that lasts 240 days and is renewable every three years for Canadians who are: 1) over age 50; 2) can show that they own a residence in the U.S. or have purchased rental or hotel accommodations in the U.S. for the duration of their stay; and 3) are not otherwise inadmissible.
Low Peak Season Incentives – The bill permits the State Department to lower visa application fees during off-peak visa demand seasons to give travelers the incentive to apply for visas when demand is lower. This is expected to help spread visa demand throughout the year, helping State to better manage applications.
Increasing Home Ownership by Priority Visitors – The bill creates a non-immigrant visa, renewable every three years, for an individual who expends at least $500,000 to purchase single-family homes in the United States.
The U.S. share of overseas arrivals has fallen from 17 to 12.4 percent since 2000, even as worldwide travel grew by 40 percent over the same timeframe. Losing just one percentage point of the total world international travel market potentially costs the U.S. 161,000 jobs, U.S. Travel says.
Last May, a U.S. Travel Association report identified difficulties international travelers experience with the U.S. visa system, which causes many to choose other countries for business or leisure travel. The legislation includes several key recommendations in U.S. Travel’s report, which will help the U.S. regain market share in the overseas travel market, creating 1.3 million jobs and producing $859 billion in additional cumulative economic output by 2020.