Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), along with Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), introduced the Jobs Originating through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, a bipartisan initiative designed to create jobs, reform outdated visa laws, and increase national security.
"Updating America's visa travel protocol will increase opportunities for international tourists, create jobs and drive valuable tourism dollars to cities across the country, including Chicago," said Rep. Quigley. "Modernizing the Visa Waiver Program specifically will strengthen our national security and enhance relationships with important allies like Poland, who have been denied visa-free travel because of outdated policies."
A key provision of the JOLT Act is identical to Rep. Quigley's recently introduced Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act, which would allow for expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of selected countries to travel to the U.S. for 90 days without a U.S. visa. The JOLT Act would update eligibility criteria for applicant countries, requiring a low overstay rate, set at less than three percent of foreign nationals who remain in the United States after their visa expires. President Obama has formally endorsed expanding the VWP and included comparable language in his comprehensive immigration reform proposal this year.
Expansion of the VWP would increase revenue to the travel industry at a time when America's economy needs it most. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), more than 17 million people visited the U.S. from VWP countries in 2010, spending nearly $61 billion and supporting 433,000 American jobs. The USTA estimates that if the number of VWP countries were expanded, an additional 602,069 U.S. visitors would generate an additional $7 billion and support 42,241 American jobs.
"The JOLT Act is a jobs and economic growth bill that harnesses the power of travel to deliver increased revenue and economic opportunity to communities all across America," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "As America's number one service export that supports one in eight U.S. jobs, travel is an economic engine that powers growth and job creation. We applaud Rep. Mike Quigley and the bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Joe Heck, for helping to bring more international visitors to the United States with the JOLT Act."
"The Chamber appreciates the leadership of Reps. Heck and Quigley on introducing the JOLT Act. The important reforms in this bill would address key barriers in the visa processing system that deter international business and leisure travel to the U.S." said Bruce Josten, executive vice president for Government Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The JOLT Act is also supported by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the Intercontinental Hotels Group, the International Franchise Association, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, National Restaurant Association, the National Retailers Federation, the American Gaming Association, the National Association of Counties, and the 88 organizations that comprise the Discover America Program (for a full list click here).
Along with Rep. Quigley's VWP provision, the JOLT Act includes standards for faster visa processing, a "premium processing" pilot program at the State Department, and encourages "Global Entry" expansion for eligible travelers.
Rep. Quigley has long advocated for expanding the VWP and testified before Congress on the benefits of including Poland and other diplomatic partners. Last year, Rep. Quigley traveled to Poland to speak with President Bronisław Komorowski on the issue and met again when President Komorowski visited Chicago. Chicago is home to nearly one million citizens of Polish ancestry, the highest concentration of any city outside of Warsaw.