The established fact is that tourism means dollars. Unfortunately, there’s another fact: for international tourists who want to come to the U.S. to take part in sports or business events, the wait for a visa can be frustrating. And it leads to a lot of worry about the U.S. missing out on revenue.
Bringing international events to the United States is huge business – the topic commanded discussion at the opening ceremonies of the most recent Sports Event Symposium sponsored by the National Association of Sports Commissions. In addition, there was promotion of The Academy, an international sports management conference to be presented in May in Lausanne, Switzerland. All this adds up to the realization that there has never been a more immediate and pressing need than that of streamlining the visa process.
It’s hardly news that the travel industry has been behind the push to do so. In 1986, the Visa Waiver Program was established to allow citizens of 38 countries to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Such waivers can be used for business or tourism but do not allow permanent access to the country for employment.
The Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel, or JOLT Act, introduced to the House in 2013 by Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV), would add countries to the program—including Brazil, Croatia, Israel, and Poland—as well as expand resources for international travelers. The bill would expand the Global Entry Program, which has proved successful in recent years, and includes measures to reduce wait times for obtaining visas from the State Department. The full text of the JOLT Act can be found here.
Already, sports-related organizations have thrown their weight behind the act, including UFC. Other supporters include organizations with general tourism interests such as the US. Travel Association, National Retail Federation, National Restaurant Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Hotel and Lodging Association, and International Franchise Association.
The latest big player to come out in support of JOLT is Paul Van Deventer, the president & CEO of Meeting Planners International (MPI), who sent an e-mail to all members, asking them to visit the U.S. Travel Association’s Power of Travel Coalition’s website for information about the bill and links to contact their legislators in support of it.
Although JOLT has bipartisan support, it faces some daunting challenges. It proposes major and heavy reforms in 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.
In addition, the bill proposes that 90% of all visa applications be processed within 10 days without laying any importance on providing the State Department with additional resources. The State Department does not have adequate staff to move visas this quickly without sacrificing the integrity of the program.
And finally, there’s the publicity aspect. Despite all the proven economic benefits of tourism (domestic as well as international), anti-terrorism sentiment is strong, and the timing might not be optimal for a measure that promotes the concept of lightening up on the scrutiny of incoming visitors.
However, if there were ever a good time to be promoting the JOLT Act, it is now. The U.S. Travel Association has been running information on National Travel and Tourism Week (May 2-10). The week’s theme for 2015 is “Travel is jobs.”