Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, commended the U.S. Senate for approving S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
The controversial legislation recognizes the importance of travel – an industry that contributes $2.0 trillion per year to the U.S. economy and constitutes America's No. 1 services export, U.S. Travel said.
"The Senate's passage today of historic immigration reform legislation is a significant step toward strengthening U.S. national security and encouraging more travel to and within the United States. Through a number of travel-friendly provisions, the bill will boost America's recovery by delivering jobs and economic growth to communities and businesses nationwide," Dow said.
"As we welcome the Senate bill today, we urge the House of Representatives to equally consider how increased legitimate inbound travel for business and leisure purposes will enhance U.S. security and leverage the economic benefits of travel for all Americans."
Among the travel-facilitation provisions included in the confirmed legislation are:
• Reforms to the highly successful Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that will allow additional countries like Brazil and Poland to apply for admission, enhancing U.S. security while welcoming more visitors to the U.S.;
• Adoption of a more accurate method of calculating visa overstay rates;
• Adoption of measures to encourage more travel from Canada;
• Authorization and funding to hire 3,500 new officers to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), positions that will help improve the entry process for international visitors to the U.S.;
• 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 U.S. Expediting entry for "trusted travelers" enables CBP personnel to focus inspection resources on unknown or higher risk travelers;
• A requirement of CBP to examine the use of non-law enforcement personnel for administrative duties to reduce agency costs and free up CBP officer time for passenger processing;
• Expedited visa reviews for travelers who wish to visit the U.S. on short notice;
• A requirement to reduce visa wait times to facilitate more and easier travel for international visitors;
• A pilot program to test the use of secure videoconferencing to conduct visa interviews, 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 VWP;
• Reauthorization of the Travel Promotion Act, the non-profit private-public partnership promoting increased international travel to the U.S.;
• A requirement for the Department of Homeland Security to reduce average primary processing wait times at high-volume international airports and land entry checkpoints by 50 percent by the end of fiscal year 2014; and
• The goal of screening all air passengers being processed at high-volume international airports within 30 minutes under normal operating circumstances by the end of fiscal year 2016.
The House will consider the legislation later this year.