The State Department is right to push for proper screening of international visitors. This goal requires buy-in from other countries—and that can be achieved by taking a constructive cue from the president’s 1987 bestseller.
This piece originally appeared in Worth magazine online.
On July 12, the U.S. Department of State announced in a cable to diplomatic posts worldwide that all nations must provide extensive data on U.S. visitor visa applicants from their countries, in order to help U.S. officials determine whether a traveler poses a terror or public safety threat. Countries that fail to comply or take steps to do so within 50 days could face travel sanctions.
This “do it, or else” approach certainly can work in some circumstances. However, when it comes to travel security policy, President Trump would be wise to embrace the much more successful methods of incentives and leverage—the “carrot” of the “carrot and stick” approach. The State Department’s end goal is smarter visa security. The best way to achieve that is through positive negotiation—and remembering that we get the better end of the deal when we capitalize on global travelers’ interest in coming to our country.
In other words, the president should take cues from his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal, rather than his “You’re fired!” persona on The Apprentice.
There are significant economic benefits to be gained by intelligently expanding opportunities for international citizens to visit the U.S. In 2016, international travel exports totaled $246 billion, which directly supported 1.2 million American jobs—in fact, the travel industry overall supports one in nine U.S. jobs, employing Americans in every state and every district. Because international dollars spent on U.S. soil are exports, inbound travel is our No. 1 service export, and our No. 2 export overall. In fact, it has played no small part in the recent surge in U.S. exports (and the related narrowing of the U.S. trade deficit). The U.S. now enjoys an $87 billion travel trade surplus—and good thing, because without it, the total U.S. trade deficit would have been 17 percent larger in 2016.
Much of that surplus could be lost if fellow nations look at our current “do it—or else!” requirement, decline, and end up “fired.” The U.S. would potentially stop issuing certain types of visas to these countries and still lack the security data it originally sought. Millions of international travelers with business interests and families here could be denied access, the U.S. could lose billions in visitor and business dollars, and the president would be left without security improvements.
We’re still the top country destination, by far for global long-haul travelers (meaning those who travel across geographical regions), and the No. 2 destination for overall global travel. Global travelers want to come here, and our government wants their governments to share more information about potential bad actors among visa applicants. So, according to The Art of the Deal, we should be strategic about using our leverage, since we have something that they want. There’s enormous potential for success here, too—we could achieve our goal (security enhancements) and then some (more of the economic benefits of international travel).
“But that’s business, this is government,” you might say. “Is such a deal even possible?”
Fortunately, President Trump has an existing example of such a deal in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which enjoys strong support across the political spectrum, particularly among conservative heavyweights. The VWP, as I’ve said for years, is the best government program with the worst name in Washington. In order to attain VWP membership, a country must meet strict passport security and intelligence-sharing standards. Far from “waiving” any security requirements for international visitors, the VWP employs stringent standards to pre-vet individuals from 38 allied countries, screening them against multiple Interpol and other security databases. Once approved, those international visitors are able to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days.
These visitors leave an enormous economic footprint during their trips. VWP countries are the largest source of inbound overseas travel to the U.S—in fact, more than 60 percent of all overseas visitors to the U.S. each year arrive under the VWP. Facilitating the entry experience for low-risk travelers from these allied countries generates $190 billion annually in economic output, and supports nearly one million jobs.
The VWP is a win-win for both the U.S. and qualified, allied countries, effectively increasing travel security and bringing tremendous economic benefit at the same time. Who’s to say President Trump couldn’t make an even better deal to secure the traveler data his administration seeks?
The “You’re fired!” approach on The Apprentice might have made for great entertainment many years ago, but I know the president’s capacity for solving problems and striking a deal is far more multifaceted. Offering other countries travel incentives, as we do with the VWP, makes them more likely to comply with our requested security protocols—and ultimately, make sure our country ends up on top economically.