Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) introduced legislation that would streamline and improve the visa application system for foreign tourists seeking to visit the United States. Current visa procedures make it unnecessarily difficult for tourists from many countries to visit the United States. The bipartisan bill would reform and strengthen the Visa Waiver Program, shorten the waiting time for certain tourist visas, allow for certain tourists to stay in the U.S. for a longer period of time, and more.
“Every new visitor to Hawai‘i gives us an opportunity to share our culture, strengthen our economy, and support our small businesses,” said Senator Schatz, Co-Chair of the Senate Tourism Caucus. “In Congress, tourism is an area that has strong bipartisan support so we should work together to do everything we can to attract new visitors and grow the industry. By modernizing and streamlining our visa system, we can expand Hawai‘i’s international tourism market, improve the visitor experience, and bring a jolt to our local economy.”
Last Congress as Chairman of the Tourism Subcommittee, Senator Schatz held hearings on the state of the U.S. tourism and travel industry to explore ways to improve the visa system and help the government achieve its goal of attracting 100 million visitors annually by 2021. At one of those hearings last year, Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents all sectors of America’s travel community, testified that the JOLT Act would help ensure that the United States is able to meet the rising visa demand.
“The flaws in our visa system are preventing the U.S. from reaping the full benefits of international tourism, and it’s time we fix them,” said Senator Schumer. “This bipartisan, commonsense bill would provide a jolt to our economy and grow tourism across the United States. Rather than perpetuating a system that ties our hands and hurts job growth, I hope Democrats and Republicans will come together to make these reforms to our badly broken visa system.”
This legislation (1) reforms and strengthens the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); (2) streamlines visa processing by requiring new standards of efficiency; (3) encourages Canadian tourism to the U.S.; (4) creates a videoconferencing pilot program for visa processing; (5) requires coordination of Trusted Traveler applications; and (6) improves passport security by requiring every U.S. visitor entering through the reformed VWP to have electronic passports.
While the global travel market is expected to double over the next decade, the United States’ market share of this industry has declined by five percent since the 2000. The JOLT Act is aimed at reversing that trend and recapturing the United States’ historic share of worldwide overseas travel, which could add nearly $100 billion to the economy over the next decade and create nearly 700,000 more American jobs.