The restoration of international travel continues to be a critical part of a full U.S. economic recovery.

The U.S. Department of Commerce National Travel and Tourism Strategy identifies inbound travel as an economic priority and sets a national goal of welcoming 90 million international visitors by 2027. 

However, despite U.S. borders reopening in November 2021, international travel is still not expected to make a full recovery until 2025, making this goal challenging under lingering restrictions and obstacles.

Why it matters: Obstacles like outrageously long visitor visa wait times, limited air routes, Russian air space restrictions and vaccination requirements for overseas visitors are delaying the recovery of international inbound travel and harming America’s economy and global competitiveness.

The problem: Wait times for visitor visa interviews now exceed 400 days for first-time applicants from top source markets.

  • Low prioritization of visitor visa (B-1/B-2) processing is keeping an estimated 6.6 million potential visitors from traveling to the United States in 2023 at a loss of $11.6 billion in projected spending.

The bottom line: International visitors are choosing other travel destinations, despite a strong desire to visit the United States. 

  • Of potential international travelers from three of our key markets requiring a visitor visa, 61% of Brazilians, 66% of Indians and 71% of Mexicans would likely choose another country to visit if visa wait times exceeded a year.  

Additionally: Other countries have lifted lingering inbound restrictions with regard to vaccination status. The U.S. should follow suit in order to compete for potential visitors. 

Though more must be done, there has been some recent progress and steps in the right direction.

Recent progress

  • October 7, 2022 - Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House through H.R. 9141–the Visitor Visa Wait Time Reduction Act.
  • June 12, 2022 - Pre-departure testing requirement for inbound air travelers was lifted.
  • March 10, 2022 – The passage of the FY22 omnibus provided $250 million in supplemental Brand USA funding, waiving the matching requirement for amounts provided above $50 million.

Additional progress

In December 2022, Congress passed the $1.7 trillion FY23 omnibus bill which included the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, securing key provisions that will help restore international travel. These include:

  • Establishing an Assistant Secretary of Travel and Tourism: Housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce, this presidentially appointed, U.S. Senate confirmed position will manage travel policy in the U.S., working to achieve annual goals to grow international travel, increase international business travel and develop a national travel and tourism strategy.
  • Providing Congressional Oversight to Address Visa Wait Times: The bill directs the State Department to report to Congress on its efforts to address 400+ day visitor visa wait times and gives the department flexibility to allocate resources toward consular services.
  • Increasing H-2B Visas: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security remains authorized to increase H-2B visas by exempting returning workers.
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RECOMMENDATIONS

Lift the remaining pandemic travel restrictions. Suspend the proof of vaccination requirement for qualified visitors, given the wide access to effective COVID-19 boosters and therapies.

Lower interview wait times in top markets. By April 30, 2023, the State Department should reduce visitor visa interview wait times to an average of 21 days in Brazil, India and Mexico.

Reinstate the executive order on visa interview wait times. By September 30, 2023, the president should reinstate the executive order to reduce 80% of visa interview wait times to less than 21 days.

Waive visa renewal interviews through 2024. Extend through 2024 the authority to waive interviews for nonimmigrant visa renewals and apply waivers more broadly to low-risk B1/B2 renewals.

Increase staffing and resources in key markets. Temporarily transfer consular staff and other State Department personnel with previous consular experience to the markets with the most need.

Conduct group processing. Set up a dedicated process to provide faster visitor visa processing for large tour groups, conventions and events taking place in the U.S.

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