According to financial experts, the total business in US generated out of travel and vacationing crossed a whooping $ 150 billion mark in 2011 and is expected to grow even faster in the coming years. The travel industry even bypassed the contributions of major sectors such as heavy manufacturing, computer and electronic goods and the service industry.
By 2020, the net international travel is expected to grow over by 36% from today. This, in monetary terms, is equivalent to over $ 2 trillion direct investment in the travel industry, generating and supporting about 60 million jobs in the travel and allied sectors. Expenditure on stays in hotels is also expected to rise significantly, mainly benefiting the hotels under the membership of AAHOA.
Major steps under consideration of the US government to increase travel to the country:
• Implementing JOLT (the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel) act.
• Expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
• Scheduling time-bound visa interviews.
• Discontinuing the practice of 100% visa interviews.
• Conducting visa interviews on the basis of risk.
The 'JOLT' Act:
First introduced in the 112th Congress, the JOLT act is a combination of several proposed policies and programs of the US government to tackle the visa problems related to foreign travelers and tourists visiting America. Considering the long and hectic visa interview process, a group of Congressmen lead by Congressman Joseph Heck (R-NV) recently introduced the latest version of the JOLT act which included some new reforms and an updated version of the previous policies.
The idea of the JOLT act originated from the 2004 Congress order which made it mandatory for the State Department to interview all visa applicants to the United States due to heightened security reasons. This order made it difficult for foreign visitors and tourists to gain a visa to the US, drastically hampering the business. Interviewing 100% visa applicants just made the wait period even longer and on the other hand, increased the burden on the State Department officials to interview everyone rather than focusing only on the previously identified potential threats.
Steps to be taken under JOLT act:
The JOLT act mainly focuses on discontinuing the practice of interviewing 100% visa applicants. According to this bill, there should be some specific guidelines to decide 'which', 'how many?' and under 'what time limit?' should the visa applicants be interviewed. Some major steps to cut down the waiting period and to ease the visa process as stated according to this bill are given below:
• Interviewing only identified potential threats.
• Allowing the process of interview via secure video conferencing.
• Scheduling time-bound visa interviews.
• Informing the applicants of the 'estimated wait time' to help them schedule their visit and save them from frustration.
• Promoting the Global Entry program.
• Expanding the Visa Waiver Program, under which the US received about 18 million visitors in the year 2011 alone.
Merits of JOLT act:
• The JOLT act is a major step for the US to regain its position of the 'best holiday destination' in the international market.
• By easing the visa process, the JOLT act would definitely increase the business generated out of travel to the country, which at current time, is providing the highest profit.
• The JOLT act also proposes to reform the VWP. If the reforms are successful, the country would receive an additional 20-30% of visitors every year who would expectedly spend an additional $ 70 billion to $ 1 trillion in the country.
• The new rules under this act state that an interview should be scheduled within 15 days of the date of filing of the application. Additionally, an interview within 10 days with the State Department officials after the completion of the first year of application should be scheduled.
This process will not only decrease the problems and wait periods for the visas but also allow the US to maintain its high security standards.
Shortcomings of JOLT act:
• First of all, the major shortcoming of the JOLT act is that it proposes major and heavy reforms in the already prevailing rules and regulations. This would require an overall change in the security and visa processing structures of the country which would be a lengthy and expensive process.
• The bill proposes that 90% of all visa applications to be processed within 10 days without laying any importance on providing the State Department with additional resources. This will simply stress-out the State Department while making the process ineffective.
The JOLT act also mentions some arguable reforms which are listed below:
• A fee-based program which waives off too many interviews and checks at different points.
• Increase in the period of admittance of Canadian visitors over the age of 50 years.