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NRF Urges Senate to Approve Bill to Boost Tourism by Reducing Visa Delays

For Immediate Release
Contact: J. Craig Shearman (202) 626-8134

NRF Urges Senate to Approve Bill to Boost Tourism by Reducing Visa Delays

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – The National Retail Federation urged the Senate to approve new legislation scheduled for a hearing today that would boost travel and tourism by reducing the time it takes to process visa applications in key countries.

“Foreign tourists and business people want to come to the United States and shop in our stores, but long lines for visas have them taking their money elsewhere,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retailers wouldn’t tell customers to wait for weeks and neither should the State Department. Speeding up the visa process is one of the quickest ways to boost the U.S. economy, and we should do it as soon as possible.”

NRF has led the retail industry’s fight on the issue because newly affluent citizens from emerging economies like China and India often spend lavishly while in the United States and are highly valued as customers by U.S. retailers. A U.S. Travel Association study found that reducing visa waits to 10 days could create 1.3 million more U.S. jobs and add more than $850 billion to the U.S. economy by 2020.

The Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, or JOLT Act, is scheduled for a hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. The measure is sponsored by subcommittee Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., along with Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

Upon enactment, the bill would require that interviews for visas be conducted within 15 days of an appointment being requested. After one year, the time would be reduced to 10 days. In India, China and Brazil -- key markets for foreign tourists -- the visa waiting times had been as long as 120 days. The bill would also require the State Department to establish a program for “premium processing” under which a visa would be issued within three business days for those willing to pay extra. The department would be authorized to use technology to speed up the process, and to create “mobile interview units” that could be dispatched to cities with 1 million or more population that do not have a U.S. embassy or consulate.

The bill would also encourage the State Department to modify agreements with certain countries on a nonreciprocal basis to allow for longer visa validity periods. In addition, the current 180-day stay limit for Canadians would be extended to 240 days for travelers over 50 and their families, the Visa Waiver Program would be updated, and foreign dignitaries could be added to the Global Entry Program that expedites clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. The State Department would also be allowed to encourage off-peak visa applications by setting lower fees during slow periods of the year.

The legislation is the latest in a series of efforts to boost tourism by easing visa restrictions. A spending bill signed into law in December included provisions requiring the State Department to reduce the wait time in China, India and Brazil, though time limits were not specified. In January, President Obama announced a program requiring visa processing capacity in China and Brazil to be increased by 40 percent in 2012, and to ensure that 80 percent of visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of the time their applications are received.

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign emphasizes the economic importance of retail and encourages policymakers to support a Jobs, Innovation and Consumer Value Agenda aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation. www.nrf.com