According to financial experts, the total business in U.S. generated out of travel and vacationing crossed the $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 a substantial 36%. Monetarily, it is equivalent to over $2 trillion in direct investments in the travel industry which generates and supports about 60 million jobs in the travel and allied sectors. Expenditures on stays in hotels is also expected to rise significantly. In reaction to the possible financial gains, the U.S. government is considering implementing the JOLT act.
Major steps under consideration of the U.S. 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 which hope 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 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 who wished to enter the United States due to heightened security reasons. This order made it difficult for foreign visitors and tourists to gain a visa to the U.S.; drastically hindering the tourist and travel industries. Interviewing 100% of all visa applicants increased the wait period even longer. On the other hand, this process only increased the burden on the State Department officials to interview all those applying for a visa rather than focusing only on previously identified potential threats.
Steps to be taken under ‘JOLT’ Act
The JOLT act mainly focuses on discontinuing the practice of interviewing 100% of visa applicants. According to this bill, there should be some specific guidelines to decide ‘which’, ‘how many?’ and under ‘what time limit?’ should 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
• Promoting the Global Entry program.
• Expanding the Visa Waiver Program
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 established rules and regulations. This would require an overall change in 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 should be processed within 10 days without laying any importance on providing the State Department with additional resources. This would simply overburden 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.
As details surrounding the JOLT act continue to emerge, we will continue to post relevant information. Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts.
Beeraj Patel, Esq.
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