The federal government is making rapid strides toward expediting travel to the U.S. from overseas, according to a report released yesterday by the White House.
The Executive Order Progress Report tracked progress made since President Obama’s Executive Order on travel and tourism was issued earlier this year. (See, “Jubilant Industry Leaders Hail Obama’s Travel Strategy,” Jan. 23, 2012.)
“Positive trends are continuing as far as arrival numbers and spending,” said Danielle Gray, deputy director of the National Economic Council, during a telephone press conference. “International visitors spent $13.7 billion in July alone, up 3% from last year; and the increase for the year so far is 9%.”
Key progress points
According to the report:
• 88% of visa applicants worldwide are interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.
• A 40% increase in visa processing capacity has been achieved in Brazil and will be accomplished in China by December.
• Facilities and staffing for processing visas are being substantially increased.
• The Visa Waiver Program, which now allows visa-free travel from 36 countries, is being expanded.
• Also being expanded are the Custom and Border Protection’s Global Entry Program and the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program – both of which allow travelers easier flow through airports and other entry points.
“Every year, tens of millions of tourists come from all over the world to visit America,” said President Obama (who was not at the press conference) in a statement. “That’s good for business, it’s good for the economy, and it’s good for our country.
“That’s why, back in January, I announced new initiatives to bolster tourism and promote everything America has to offer and make it even easier for tourists to come and visit, without sacrificing our Nation’s security. I’m glad we’re making progress and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to strengthen the travel and tourism industry and create an economy that’s built to last.”
Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, said the government has surpassed its goals in making it easier for visitors to obtain a visa.
In Brazil, where the one-millionth visa was issued last week, there has been a 37% increase in the number of visas issued in the past year, according to Nides. The million-visa mark has also been achieved in China and Mexico, he said.
“We have taken a whole government approach to an area where we aim to increase capacity without compromising security,” he said.
Expanding visa waiver
The Department of Homeland Security wants to expedite “legitimate trade and travel” by expanding the visa waiver program, according to Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary for the department.
Legislation is being pursued to expand the program to more countries, she said, noting that Taiwan is already in the final stages of approval for the program.
Across the U.S.
International travelers are visiting destinations across the U.S., Gray said, although most go to Orlando, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
“We are drawing more visitors to national parks and monuments, an important priority,” she said.
Canada and Mexico remain the top sources of international visitors, according to the report. Consular officers at 10 U.S. visa-issuing posts in Mexico processed more than 1.57 million visa and border crossing cards from January through August this year, up nearly 33% over the same period last year. (Canadian citizens are largely exempt from U.S. visa requirements.)
In addition to the Executive Order Progress Report, the White House announced a travel and tourism “Listening Tour.”
Administration and Cabinet officials will travel to various cities across the country to discuss the importance of increasing travel and tourism with state and local officials, small business owners, and key stakeholder organizations.