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The Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of American (Visit USA) Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

* Ms. HIRONO. Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of myself and Congressman DAVID DREIER to discuss a bill that we introduced yesterday, the Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America, VISIT USA, Act.

* This is the companion bill to S. 1746, which was introduced on a bipartisan basis in the United States Senate by Senator SCHUMER of New York and Senator LEE of Utah.

* The VISIT USA Act is a common-sense proposal that is about one thing--creating jobs and boosting our economy.

* According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, the travel and tourism industry accounts for more than 25 percent of all U.S. services exports--our nation's largest service export, in fact. In 2010, international travel to the U.S. accounted for $134 billion in receipts for U.S. businesses and supported 7.4 million American jobs--including 152, 864 in my home state of Hawaii, and 873,000 in Congressman DREIER'S home state of California.

* This legislation will help to support and grow this important industry by making travel to the U.S. easier and more efficient for foreign travelers. Specifically, the bill contains several provisions aimed at increasing visitors from China, making visa processing more efficient, and giving the State Department necessary flexibility to manage the visa process more effectively.

* It will also help to solidify and strengthen our relationship with one of our most important travel partners, Canada, and even includes provisions to help address the housing crisis.

* China has the world's largest population--1.3 billion people--yet only 802,000 visitors travelled to the U.S. in 2010. These 802,000 visitors spent approximately $5 billion in the U.S. during their stays, the seventh most spent in the U.S. by visitors from any country. Clearly, welcoming more visitors from China will benefit our economy and help to create jobs. In order to do this, the bill provides Chinese visitors that meet the appropriate security requirements with the ability to acquire five year, multiple-entry visitor visas.

* The bill would also establish a pilot program that would allow the State Department to conduct visa interviews via videoconference. One of the key challenges for residents of these countries--like China, India, and Brazil--is the need to travel great distances to conduct in-person visa interviews. If successful, this pilot program will help to responsibly reduce wait times and effectively meet the demand for visas in countries with large rural populations.

* The bill would also authorize the State Department to charge extra fees in order to expedite the processing of certain visas, and allow Customs and Border Protection to provide expedited visas for foreign dignitaries and other priority visitors. This can be especially important for international meetings, and events such as the Olympics. Finally, the VISIT Act will make changes to visa procedures for nation's that are working closely with the U.S. to combat terrorism.

* The VISIT Act also allows the Administration to lower visa application fees during off-peak seasons to help incentivize applications when overall demand is low.

* In addition to improving the visa processing system, and incentivizing travelers from untapped markets, the VISIT Act also includes provisions to encourage visitors from the U.S.'s top travel partner--Canada.

* In 2010, the U.S. welcomed 20 million visitors from Canada. Those visitors spent over $20 billion during their stays. The VISIT Act creates a ``Canadian Retiree Visa'' which allows Canadian citizens over 50 to apply for 240 day visas. These visas would need to be renewed every three years, and visa holders would have to meet all necessary security requirements, and be able to prove that they have accommodations for the duration of their stay.

* Overall, the reforms included in this bill are a cost-effective, bipartisan approach to incentivizing job creation and supporting a critical U.S. industry. In fact, to date the Senate legislation has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

* I'm confident that there will be many other groups--from across the political spectrum--that will support these much needed reforms that Chairman DREIER and I are introducing today.

* I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to see this measure passed.

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