The U.S. Travel Association has announced its endorsement of new legislation to help expand the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act, introduced by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), enhances security measures while extending the VWP framework to welcome additional countries.
“Expanding the Visa Waiver Program benefits our economy and creates U.S. jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “I want to thank Senators Mikulski and Kirk, and Representatives Quigley and Chabot, for their vision to create legislation that allows for the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, and we look forward to the economic growth that will occur as a result.”
Among the legislation’s key components are:
Updated Eligibility Criteria, requiring applicant countries to maintain an average non-immigrant visa overstay rate of not more than three percent in addition to the current requirement of an average non-immigrant visa refusal rate of not more than three percent;
Updated Refusal Rate Criteria, utilizing the Department of State’s new ability to more accurately calculate visa refusal rates based on the number of individual applications, rather than total number of applications;
Exercise of Waiver Authority, reinstating the Secretary of Homeland Security’s waiver authority to enable a country to be designated for the VWP if the country meets all of the current VWP requirements and has a visa refusal rate of no more than ten percent; and
Synchronized Probation and Termination Provisions with the Overstay Rate Based Eligibility Criteria. The original legislation triggered probation for a VWP country if the overstay rate exceeded three percent. The new requirement triggers probation if the VWP country does not meet that or any other VWP requirement. Probation would be lifted when the country again meets VWP requirements.
Earlier today, Mr. Dow sent letters of endorsement regarding the bill to the House and Senate.
About the Visa Waiver Program
The VWP is designed to improve standards for air security, travel documents and international information sharing, and to stimulate the U.S. economy by removing entry obstacles that discourage overseas travel to our shores.
In 2010, VWP countries were the largest source of inbound overseas travel to the United States, with more than 17 million visitors, representing 65 percent of all visitors from overseas. While here, these visitors spent nearly $61 billion, supporting 433,000 American jobs and generating $9 billion in government tax revenues. The most lucrative segment of international travel for the U.S. is from overseas, as each “long-haul” visitor to America spends an average of $4,000 per visit here.
The volume of VWP visitors has helped make inbound travel America’s top service export, supporting 1.8 million U.S. jobs. Most of these jobs cannot be outsourced and many are in industries not typically associated with travel, including manufacturing, construction, agriculture and health care. But over the last decade, while the world long-haul market grew by 40 percent, the U.S. saw only a one percent increase.
Expansion of the VWP will also buttress homeland security. Under the VWP’s strict security standards and obligations, foreign travelers’ passports are more secure and U.S. audit authority of passport security is stronger. VWP’s information-sharing requirements yield data from other nations that continuously supplement our own terrorism watch lists.
Moreover, the VWP is an important tool for U.S. public diplomacy, exposing far more international visitors to the attractions and values of America’s heartland. Studies have shown that foreign nationals who visit the U.S. return home with a far more positive view of our nation and its policies.