The Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel (JOTR) Act is being heard by the US Senate today. The act aims to reform immigration law by expediting the visa process for Indian, Brazilian, and Chinese nationals seeking to visit the United States for tourism or business, boosting Canadian tourism, and reforming the visa waiver program. If passed, it is estimated to add up to 1 million visitors to the United States per year, significantly boosting earnings from tourism and associated retail.
The bill would ultimately reduce wait times for visa appointments to a maximum of 10 days and add a “premium processing” provision, which would reduce wait times to 3 days for those willing to pay additional fees. A study by the US Travel Association indicated that cutting times to 10 days would add $850 billion to the US economy in the next decade and generate as many as 1.3 million jobs. This boost is expected to come primarily from additional spending from Chinese and Indian business people and tourists, who are coveted retail customers due to their lavish spending.
The JOTR Act is backed by an industry coalition that includes the National Retail Federation. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said, “Foreign tourists and business people want to come to the United States and shop in our stores, but long lines for visas have them taking their money elsewhere. Retailers wouldn’t tell customers to wait for weeks and neither should the State Department. Speeding up the visa process is one of the quickest ways to boost the U.S. economy, and we should do it as soon as possible.”
According to a Commerce Department report issued last week, international visitors spent $153 billion in the United States in 2011, a record amount.
The provisions for Indian, Brazilian, and Chinese nationals are largely a response to an ever-growing backlog of visa applications from those countries that has crimped the supply of skilled foreign workers entering the US. It comes on the heels of legislation proposed in November that would eliminate a cap on the number of visas based on employment available each year. That legislation was blocked in December. If adopted, it would address the absurdity of the visa allocation process, which gives 7% of visas annually to each country, regardless of demand or population size. As a result of this, Indian skilled immigrants face waits of up to 70 years for a visa, according to reporting from the National Immigration Forum.