US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board Recommendations to Improve the US Visa Process and Experience at US Airports of Entry

The current US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) sent a letter last month to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke outlining recommendations on facilitating travel to the United States; specifically focusing on the US visa process and entry procedures.  (Today, President Obama announced he will nominate Secretary Locke to be the US ambassador to China).

The US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board serves as the advisory body to the Secretary of Commerce on matters relating to the travel and tourism industry in the US.  Gina Marie Lindsey, Executive Director, Los Angeles World Airports is a member of the Travel and Tourism Board.   

The TTAB’s seven recommendations regarding the US visa process are outlined below.  Several of the recommendations would require changes to US policy and law in order to be implemented. 

  • Establish a maximum wait time of five days for visa processing.
  • Add a few hundred officers in visa processing centers in key emerging countries.
  • Add four to six visa locations each in China, Brazil and India.
  • Enable State Department to retain all the visa and consular fees to cover the cost of consular staffing and visa processing.
  • Increase the validity of non-immigrant visas for Chinese visitors to 10 years.
  • Give State Department more discretion regarding the need for personal interviews.
  • Restore the ability of the Secretary of Homeland Secretary to admit countries into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with a visa refusal rate of 10% or less by decoupling the VWP from the legal requirement to implement US-VISIT Exit at airports.

The TTAB also made three recommendations regarding the experience of foreign travelers arriving at U.S. air and sea ports of entry:

  •  Establish a goal of a wait time at international airports and cruise terminals of less than 20 minutes.
  • Strengthen implementation of Model Ports of Entry program through increased staffing flexibility and customer service focus.  Create a public/private partnership at the port level including the local port authority, DHS representatives, airlines, and local travel and tourism companies.
  • Ramp up the Global Entry program by enhancing marketing efforts, expanding its presence to more US airports and increasing the number of foreign visitors who are enrolled through finalizing negotiations with major trading partners.

The TTAB also recommends that a public/private partnership or working group be established to drive progress on implementing the recommendations with the goal of achieving more than 40 million international visitors annually by 2015.  ACI-NA has approached the Department of Commerce to state that it would be interested in participating on such a group, if it is established, and that some U.S. airports probably would be interested as well.

The TTAB letter and two appendices also include some interesting information e.g. the number of annual Chinese visitors to Europe is three million in contrast to 500,000 to the US and Brazilians do not need visas to visit Schengen countries, whereas they do to visit the US.

At the end of the day, however, the Departments of Homeland Security and State are the departments with jurisdiction regarding US visa and entry procedures.

The TTAB letter can be found at http://www.tinet.ita.doc.gov/TTAB/docs/02012011_letter.pdf