I spend a lot of time talking about how important travel is for personal satisfaction, growth and education, but it is also vital to our economy. The recession is said to be over and America is currently in a state of recovery--and I suppose I believe that. Still, there is a lot that needs to be done in order for us to return to our glory days, and that includes creating more jobs and boosting spending in our country. International travel can not only put thousands of Americans to work, but it can also help to kick the economy into high gear.
Travel and tourism employs nearly 7.4 million Americans and generates $700 billion in revenue. According to studies, on average, international travelers spend $4,000 in the U.S. per visit. Last year, foreigners spent more than $134 billion in travel to America, representing 8.7% of exports of goods and services. However, international tourism has taken a dive lately, and lawmakers are looking to change that. Enter the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, or JOLT.
The bipartisan bill aims to get rid of some of the beuracratic barriers that impede international tourism and deter foreigners from coming to the U.S. That includes a drawn-out visa approval process that involves long wait times for visitors and high fees. Under the current law, the wait time for a U.S. visa can be as long as 100 days for certain countries, like China or Brazil--both of which can bring in big-spending tourists. Many guests don't want to wait that long, and those that do wait usually have to take part in a lengthy interview process. Plus, the application fee of $140 is non-refundable and is usually combined with other costs, which makes coming to the U.S. less appealing. While we do have a Visa Waiver Program in place that lets guests from certain countries enter without a visa, it is somewhat limited, which prevents a number of potential tourists from coming here.
The JOLT Act would aim to change agreements with some countries to allow for extended visa periods so the need to renew it would happen less often. It would also offer visitors an option to speed up the process for a premium cost, which could be nice for foreigners who can afford to have an expedited visa approval. To cut down on the time it takes for approval, the bill would seek to set up standards that require the State Department to conduct interviews and review applications no later than 15 days after the date posted on the applicant request form. Finally, the bill wants to expand the waiver program, and the Secretary of Homeland Security would add more countries that meet the necessary security requirements--because safety is a concern for many citizens.
Tourism is a major source of revenue for our country, as well as a key job creator. America used to be a leader in the industr, but over the last decade, international travel to the U.S. has fallen off for any number of reasons. This bill could spark a turnaround and get us back to the powerhouse we once were. I am definitely all for more ways to boost tourism and travel, because, after all, that is the industry I aspire to be part of for my career.
For more information on the JOLT Act, check out the links below:
Mike Lee, U.S. Senator for Utah