Warner announces support for tourism initiative
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) today announced his support for bipartisan legislation that will increase international tourism by cutting excessively long wait times for overseas visitors to receive U.S. tourist visas. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would give the U.S. State Department more tools and new incentives to streamline visa processing services without compromising the security of our borders or American citizens.
Tourism is one of Virginia’s largest industries, generating more than $17 billion in revenue. According to the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), tourism supports more than 200,000 Virginia jobs and contributes an estimated $1.24 billion in state and local tax revenue for the Commonwealth annually.
“Tourism is big business in Virginia, but a key obstacle to increasing the number of foreign travelers is our burdensome U.S. visa system,” Warner said. “If we want to grow these numbers, we need to look at smart visa reforms that promote international travel without compromising U.S. security.”
In China, those who want to visit the United States often face waits of up to 120 days. In Brazil, it can take up to 145 days to process a U.S. travel visa, while a visa that permits a Brazilian citizen to visit the UK can be processed in about two weeks.
“Would you wait more than four months for a travel visa?” Warner asked. “The U.S. requirement for a mandatory face-to-face interview with a consular official before issuing a visa was enacted shortly after 9/11. This legislation would allow the State Department to exercise its discretion and extend some of these one-year tourist visas for up to four-years. That will encourage more foreign visitation by reducing the backlog of individuals waiting for interviews. It also allows our U.S. embassies and consulates to focus on commonsense risk profiles, and stop wasting their limited resources interviewing grandmothers who simply want to visit their loved ones in Virginia.”
The U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in the international tourism market. U.S. Commerce Department figures show that the United States’ share of overseas arrivals has fallen from 17 to 12.4 percent since 2000, even as worldwide travel grew by 40 percent over the same timeframe. The loss of even one percentage point of the total world international travel market potentially costs the United States 161,000 jobs.
The Klobuchar/Blunt legislation would help alleviate the excessively long wait times at some embassies and consulates, and help give the State Department the tools and incentives it needs to address this pressing issue. The bill would:
· Incentivize the State Department – without risking security – to improve the visa process by allowing the Department to reinvest fees charged for visas if additional personnel will help improve efficiency.
· Allow the Secretary of State, in appropriate circumstances, to grant a waiver of up to 3 additional years (4 years total) for foreigners to renew their tourist visas without requiring the tourist to go through an in-person interview each year.
· Require the State Department to provide a report to Congress outlining how the Department is using Department of Commerce travel data in order to further improve the visa process.
“Tourism is a powerful engine for job creation in Virginia and in local communities across the country,” Warner said. “By making it easier to travel to the United States without compromising important national security safeguards, we could create new jobs and strengthen local economies without spending one dime of American taxpayer dollars.”