Los Feliz Ledger: Tourism Key to Future Economic Health8/3/12
Travel is essential to our economic health -- the travel and tourism industry creates American jobs and gets our economy going. Travelers, whether here for business or pleasure, buy goods and services which include but are not limited to transportation, dining, hotel, and entertainment. From the large hotel chain that employs thousands of local workers to the mom-and-pop souvenir store on the corner, the industry supports millions of jobs throughout the country.
The tourism industry took a hit following the terrorist attacks of September 11th and took an even bigger hit in 2007 when our country sank into a recession. Approximately one million tourism-related jobs were lost between 2007 and 2011.
International travelers looking to visit the U.S. are often discouraged by the lengthy and arduous visa application process. Visa applicants not only have to endure long wait times for an interview but often have to travel great distances for an in-person interview at the U.S. embassy in their home country. It’s often easier for leisure travelers and businesses exploring conferences to opt for an alternate destination. This hurts our economy.
As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing the State Department, I have encouraged the Administration to accelerate the visa process by adding more examiners to do background checks thoroughly, but expeditiously. Each examiner pays for themselves many times over, by the added revenue spent by the additional visitors they make possible. Happily, the Administration is responding.
Earlier this year, President Obama announced that he would implement changes to make it easier for foreigners to travel to the U.S. The changes include making permanent Global Entry, a program that expedites customs clearance for pre-approved travelers, expanding the list of countries on the Visa Waiver Program, which would exempt travelers from participating countries from obtaining a visa, and shortening visa processing times for visitors from Brazil and China.
Since the President’s announcement in January, the State Department reallocated resources and increased staffing to process visas at some of the busiest embassies. These changes have shortened interview wait times for Brazil from over thirty days to as short as one day. Chinese visitors are now able to schedule interviews in as little as two days.
As a result, we are seeing an increase in the number of travelers from Brazil and China. In the first half of fiscal year 2012, consular officers in Brazil issued more than 555,000 visas compared to 350,000 visas during the same time period in 2011. In China, 453,000 visas were issued in the first half of 2012, compared to 310,000 visas in 2011.
While we need to guardedly screen our visitors and protect our country from those who want to cause us harm, we must also continue to remove unnecessary barriers that stifle our economic recovery. There are several legislative efforts in Congress to deal with these issues and I am happy to be a cosponsor of the JOLT Act, which will streamline the processing of tourist visas and allow for the admittance of additional countries into the Visa Waiver Program.
Los Angeles is the fourth most popular travel destination in the country. Boosting travel and tourism will not only benefit the country, it will also be good for our local economy. Foreign visitors spend money here and take key impressions home with them. We should do everything in our power to encourage their visits, their expenditures, and the important jobs they sustain.