WASHINGTON—The U.S. Travel Association is urging Congress to act to reform the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entry process. The organization released a report Wednesday detailing the severe economic consequences that result from often lengthy wait times experienced by millions of travelers and proposed 20 policy changes to address the problem.
With international travel to the U.S. measuring record levels and forecast to increase in years ahead, including a national goal to welcome 100 million visitors by 2021, new resources are critical to improving the ability of CBP officers to process passengers more efficiently while meeting every security need. Failure to enact meaningful enhancements will do measurable harm to the U.S. economy as it continues its recovery, the report finds. U.S. Travel estimates the total cost to our economy of delaying and deterring visitors is $95 billion over the next five years—dollars that could support 518,000 American jobs.
“The U.S. welcomed 67 million visitors last year, and far too many of these valued customers spent the first hours of their trip waiting in line at U.S. air ports of entry,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “International travel is a bright spot for the U.S. economy, but long lines and wait times that many experience during entry are deterring millions of potential visitors while our country is trying to rebuild its global market share. The issue is not CBP officers themselves, whom even delayed travelers regard as competent and hard-working; the problems lie in policy and resources, which Congress must address.”
The report, titled Gateway to Jobs & Growth: Creating a Better Traveler Entry Process, finds the effects of simply standing in an entry line, rather than spending money in our economy, cost travel-related businesses $416 million each year.
More damaging, though, are opportunity costs associated with unrealized spending by potential travelers to the U.S. who decide against visiting due to negative perceptions about the entry process. The report finds that 2.7 million international travelers—about 9 percent of potential trips—avoid visiting the U.S. every year because of this problem. With each overseas traveler spending an average of nearly $4,500, that translates to $11.8 billion lost annually directly to travel industry businesses.
The report finds that if reforms were in place to guarantee the primary inspection process did not exceed 30 minutes, the resulting surge in visitors would generate approximately $3.5 billion in positive economic impact and create 24,000 jobs.
“I join with other travel leaders in calling on Congress to invest in the U.S. entry process so that our international guests feel welcomed from the first moment they enter the country,” said Jim Abrahamson, CEO of Interstate Hotels & Resorts and national chair of the U.S. Travel Association. “Our path to welcoming 100 million or more international travelers every year is paved with reforms to our visa issuance process, our newly established national tourism promotion program and, now, improvements to the U.S. entry process.”
Necessary policy adjustments identified by U.S. Travel and outlined in the report include: Hiring 3,500 additional CBP officers as provided for in the Senate immigration bill; Staffing flexibility to ensure CBP’s officers are allocated for maximum efficiency; Implementing enhanced technology to alleviate pressure on CBP officer staffing; Reducing peak wait times by 50 percent and processing each traveler within 30 minutes; and enhancing transparency to improve government and private sector coordination.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate (S. 744) provides for an additional 3,500 CBP officers and calls for reducing average primary processing wait times at high-volume international airports by 50 percent. The bill also sets a goal of screening 80 percent of air passengers being processed at high-volume international airports in under 30 minutes by the end of fiscal year 2016.
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