Oahu, Hawaii –Bipartisan legislation recently introduced by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) would cut red tape and reform U.S. visa policies—potentially bringing an estimated 280,000 visitors yearly from China, Canada, and other high-growth markets to Hawaii, boosting economic growth in the state.
“The Pacific region is a vast market for new visitors. Reforming our visa process is a cost-effective, common-sense way to make it easier and more inviting for international businesses and tourists to come to Hawaii and the U.S.,” said Congresswoman Hirono. “It’s why this is an idea both Democrats and Republicans are behind.”
The Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act, or VISIT USA Act, would establish 5-year multiple entry visas for Chinese visitors, extend the time Canadian retirees can stay in the U.S., make changes to the Visa Waiver Program, and make other low-cost reforms that will increase tourism in the U.S.
In 2010, more than 54 million Chinese citizens travelled abroad. Europe welcomed 3.7 million of these visitors. However, the U.S. only saw 800,000 Chinese visitors, of which only 62,000 came to Hawaii.
The reforms contained in the VISIT USA Act could help put the U.S. on a path to match Europe as a destination for Chinese visitors in the coming years. This growth can also give a huge boost to Hawaii. With the average visitor from China staying in the state for six days and spending $350 a day, this growth in visitors could also yield an estimated $573 million for Hawaii’s economy.
“The VISIT USA Act is great news for Hawai‘i’s tourism economy,” said Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “Improvements to the visa process and other policy changes will help to ease access and make visiting the U.S. and Hawai’i more convenient for many international visitors. We are encouraged by this legislation and the potential it has to boost, not only visitor arrivals and spending, but also our state’s economy through increased commerce and job growth.
“In fact, using estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce, we could see potentially 6,000 new jobs created in Hawai’i as a result of the reforms in the VISIT USA Act.”
Key provisions of the VISIT USA Act include:
- Allow Chinese visitors to apply for 5-year multiple-entry visitor visas. Currently, Chinese visitors can only apply for a 1-year multiple-entry visitor visa.
- Allow an extra fee to be charged to expedite the processing of a non-immigrant visa.
- Create a videoconference pilot program to conduct visa interviews for foreign nationals applying for visas.
- Allow Canadian citizens to get visas that last 240 days, renewable every 3 years.
- Lower visa fees during off-peak seasons to encourage more applications when demand is lower.
- Allow U.S. allies in the fight against global terrorism to become part of the Visa Waiver Program, so citizens of selected countries can travel to the U.S. more easily.
- Allow important foreign dignitaries, like Olympians, to be added to the Global Entry Program after a review of their case.
“Other countries are aggressively pooling their national resources and staking a larger claim in the international tourism industry,” said Roy Yamaguchi, Board Member of Brand USA. “I applaud efforts like the VISIT USA Act and other proposals to facilitate travel to the United States. With Brand USA promoting the greatest destination in the world, efforts to increase the ability of travelers to come here allows us to achieve great things for the U.S. economy.”
This bipartisan bill has also been introduced in the Senate by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and has been endorsed by:
- Discover America Partnership
- Americans for Tax Reform
- U.S. Travel Association
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- American Hotel and Lodging Association
- National Restaurant Association
Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) is also a Senate cosponsor of the legislation.
In addition to the VISIT USA Act, Congresswoman Hirono’s tourism agenda includes successfully advocating for additional funds for the State and Homeland Security Departments to speed up visa processing in 2012. She has also cosponsored other measures to boost local tourism promotion and further improve U.S. visa policies to encourage international travel.