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US travel industry applauds new Senate amendments

The Discover America Partnership along with TIA and other U.S. travel industry leaders applauded several U.S. Senators for introducing amendments to the Senate Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S. 1348) that…

The Discover America Partnership along with TIA and other U.S. travel industry leaders applauded several U.S. Senators for introducing amendments to the Senate Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S. 1348) that would improve and strengthen U.S. visa and entry policies for increased efficiency and enhanced security.



The amendments, which are consistent with the proposals outlined in the Discover America Partnership`s A Blueprint to Discover America, demonstrate an increasing recognition on Capitol Hill that reversing the nearly 20 percent decline in overseas travel to the U.S. since September 11, 2001, is critical to U.S. security and economic strength. The amendments, described below, were offered by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mel Martinez (R-FL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).



Repairing America`s flawed travel system is integral to our country`s economic security and public diplomacy efforts, said Geoff Freeman, Executive Director of the Discover America Partnership. We applaud Senators Durbin, Martinez, Schumer, Nelson and Reid for introducing amendments that would enhance America`s image abroad and bring great benefits to our economy and security.



These amendments are non-controversial and intended to enhance security while increasing the efficiency and the welcome for international travelers applying for visas and arriving in the United States, said Roger Dow, President and CEO of the Travel Industry Association (TIA).



We can shorten visa waits and inspection lines and improve this nation’s security at the same time. Enhanced homeland security and more international travelers are not mutually exclusive, said Dow.



We cannot thank these Senators enough for stepping up and demonstrating their leadership and support not only for the travel industry, but for growing the overall economy and enhancing our nation’s standing in the world, said Jonathan M. Tisch, Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and Chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable (TBR). By improving the visa and entry process, we can welcome millions more visitors from abroad and better promote our economic, diplomatic and political interests as a nation.



The amendments and their sponsors are:



Nelson-Martinez Amendment (#1303) to Authorize Secure Video-Conferencing for Visa Interviews and Deployment of Mobile Visa Interview Teams: This amendment would authorize the Department of State (DOS) to conduct visa interviews via video-conference if the department certifies that such a process can be implemented in a secure manner. This would eliminate distance and cost associated with visa interviews in many countries that often act as deterrents to would-be travelers to the United States. This amendment would also authorize DOS to utilize mobile teams of consular officials to conduct visa interviews if the department certifies that such a program can be conducted in a secure manner. This would expand the reach of U.S. consulates without requiring new physical infrastructure.



Durbin-Martinez-Schumer Amendment (#1309) to Report on Visa Processing Times: This amendment would require DOS to conduct an assessment of, and a report to Congress on, consular posts with consistently long visa application wait times to evaluate requirements for bringing interview wait times to less than 30 days. Reducing the interview wait times to 30 days or less will help alleviate the impression that the United States does not welcome international travelers.



Reid Amendment (#1279) to Authorize Model Ports Program and 200 More Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers at the Top 20 U.S. Airports: This amendment would authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a model ports program at the top 20 U.S. airports receiving international travelers in order to carry out the task of creating a more efficient and welcoming process for screening (inspecting) arriving international visitors. This amendment would also authorize at least 200 more CBP officers to be assigned to the top-20, high-volume international arrivals airports to facilitate the deployment of streamlined customs and entry procedures that boost efficiency and security.



Martinez Amendment (#1346) to Establish an International Registered Traveler (IRT) Program: This amendment would authorize DHS to establish an IRT program to expedite the inspection of frequent U.S. and international travelers arriving by air into the United States, which would enhance security by targeting attention on lesser-known travelers while simultaneously easing entry procedures for repeat travelers.



The importance of international travel is reflected in countless studies showing that those who have visited America have more favorable opinions of the country and are more likely to support U.S. policies. Moreover, an increase of 10 million more visitors annually could create 190,000 jobs, $16.5 billion in new spending and nearly $3 billion in new tax revenues.



A bill that is strong on keeping illegal immigrants out should be just as strong on welcoming legal overseas travelers to the United States, said Freeman. We are grateful to Senators Durbin, Martinez, Schumer, Nelson and Reid for recognizing the importance of travelers to the United States, and we look forward to working with the Senate to build on this momentum and ensure that these necessary reforms are included in the final legislation.

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.

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