Last year, in an acknowledgement of the powerful contributions that travel makes to the country’s economy, President Barack Obama set a goal of attracting 100 million international travelers to the United States by 2021. In the year since that announcement, strong progress has been made both through an executive order establishing a National Travel and Tourism Strategy, and through a series of improvements to visa issuance.
“Since President Obama’s call for a National Travel and Tourism Strategy a year ago, we have seen tremendous progress in facilitating international travel to the United States,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “As travel demand to the United States continues to increase, we must sustain the remarkable progress that has been made this past year.”
With the launch of Brand USA’s international campaign to encourage increased international visitation to the United States and an improved, streamlined visa process, the U.S. is seeing increased demand in the global travel market. In Brazil, for instance, visa applications in 2012 rose by 37 percent.
Additional achievements for 2012 include:
- The U.S. Department of State processing 11 million non-immigrant visa applications in 2012, nearly 19 percent more than the 9.2 million processed in 2011;
- State Department expansion of facilities and increased capacity for processing visa applications from two high-growth markets, Brazil and China, by 40%. In those countries, where delays commonly exceeded 100 days in the past, wait times are now down to 5 and 2 days, respectively;
- Consular officers worldwide are currently interviewing 88% of applicants within 3 weeks, compared to 57% last year;
- Taiwan’s admittance into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
Another top priority included in the President’s strategy is increasing efforts to expand the VWP, which strengthens national security while encouraging legitimate overseas visitors. Preserving and expanding the VWP will create jobs and bolster our economy by welcoming millions of new international visitors to the United States. For example, if Brazil and Chile were admitted to the VWP, it would likely double visitation quickly from these countries, thus generating $10.3 billion in export revenues and supporting 95,100 American jobs.
While legislation called the JOLT Act was introduced in the previous Congress, it faced several hurdles in gaining passage that were not overcome. Similar legislation will soon be introduced in the 113th Congress that will play a key role in reducing these barriers.
“We must solidify the gains of the past year, either through Executive Branch oversight or by codifying new best-practice standards implemented this last year into law,” said Dow. “We congratulate the President on a strong, travel-focused year, and we look forward to working with him to reach a goal of 100 million international travelers visiting the United States by 2021.”