Immigration reform could strengthen U.S. security and boost economic growth, particularly in the travel sector, which supports one out of every eight American jobs and generates the third-largest trade surplus of any U.S. industry, says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which welcomed the immigration standards released by the U.S. House of Representatives Republican majority. Dow urged forward movement on reform.
Action on immigration policy is now being discussed in the House and Senate and is a priority of the Obama Administration.
"The House Republican immigration standards are an encouraging signal that both parties in both chambers, as well as the Administration, are ready to move forward on fixing America's broken immigration system," said Dow.
Dow noted that America's travel community strongly supports the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act (H.R. 1354), provisions of which were included in the Senate-passed immigration bill and has garnered more than 120 bipartisan supporters in the House.
U.S. Travel says the act would:
- Modernize and expand the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) by updating eligibility requirements to allow more travelers from countries closely allied to the U.S., including Poland, Israel, Chile and Brazil, to enjoy the same visa-free entry that travelers from 37 other countries currently enjoy.
- Facilitate the use of secure videoconferencing to conduct visa interviews by authorizing a pilot program to test feasibility. By adopting modern communications technology commonly used in the private sector, U.S. consulates around the world could provide increased access for potential travelers while reducing costs for U.S. taxpayers.
- Reduce visa wait times, with measures that include:
- A pilot program for fee-based, expedited interviews at a limited number of consular posts;
- Requiring the State Department to publish information on times of low demand for visa interviews to encourage visitors to apply during these periods;
- Establishing a goal of interviewing 90 percent of applicants within 10 business days for all nonimmigrant visas worldwide, with recognition of the need to concurrently maintain U.S. security and address resource allocation; and
- Ease unnecessary restrictions on visitation from Canada.
- Expand the highly successful Global Entry program that allows preapproved, low-risk international travelers the ability to utilize an expedited clearance process upon entry into the U.S. Expediting entry for "trusted travelers" enables U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel to focus inspection resources on unknown or risky travelers.
One provision alone in the JOLT Act—expanding the Visa Waiver Program—could, if extended to Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Israel, Panama, Poland, Romania and Uruguay:
- Increase annual visitation by more than 600,000;
- Add more than $7 billion to the U.S. economy; and
- Support more than 40,000 additional American jobs.
"It's time to recapture the momentum from last summer and agree on common-sense immigration reform measures that will deliver real economic benefits to businesses and communities across America," said Dow.