Immigration reform represents an opportunity to both enhance U.S. security and boost long-term economic growth, said Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel at the opening of a fly-in in Washington D.C. to support immigration reform. The fly-in was supported by 600 public- and private-sector leaders from across the United States to meet with Members of Congress on the importance of immigration reform, U.S. Travel says.
"The business community sees tremendous benefit in moving ahead with comprehensive reform now, and we have come to Capitol Hill to drive that message home," Dow said. He noted an "incredible groundswell of support for immigration reform across all sectors of society."
Among the fly-in's featured participants is Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson."For those of us in travel and tourism, the opportunities at hand break down into two broad categories: One, promoting and facilitating international tourism in the United States, and two, stabilizing our industry's workforce," Sorenson said.
"[M]odernizing our tourist and business visa processing systems is essential to making sure we can take advantage of the explosive growth in travel demand building in emerging economies. Competitor nations are moving aggressively to make it easy for travelers from Brazil and China, in particular, to come to their countries. The economic opportunity here is massive—we're talking billions of dollars within a decade. We need to keep pace," Sorenson said.
U.S. Travel said it will also work with Congress to build support for the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act—bipartisan, stand-alone legislation introduced in the House that mirrors many of the pro-travel provisions in the immigration bill passed by the Senate. The JOLT Act is approaching 100 co-sponsors.
Among the JOLT Act's provisions:
• Expand the highly successful U.S. Visa Waiver Program that enables international travelers from approved countries to enter the U.S. without a visa.
• Expand the Global Entry program that expedites entry for preapproved, low-risk international travelers.
• Mandate expedited visa processing and reduced visa wait times for travelers who wish to visit the U.S.
• Facilitate 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.
• Encourage more travel from Canada.
Dow also urged the House to find a legislative vehicle for important pro-travel measures included in the Senate-passed immigration bill:
• Authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire 3,500 new officers, which will help improve the entry process for international visitors to the U.S.
• Establish the goal of screening all air passengers being processed at gateway airports within 45 minutes under normal operating circumstances, and 80 percent of passengers within 30 minutes, by the end of fiscal year 2016.
• Require the Department of Homeland Security to reduce average primary processing wait times at air and land entry checkpoints by 50 percent by the end of fiscal year 2014.