Immigration Reform Would Boost Travel and Tourism Industry

Most of the public debate over immigration reform has ignored its impact on a key sector of the U.S. economy: travel and tourism. This, despite the fact that travel and tourism “comprise the largest service-export industry in the U.S., setting a record $165.6 billion in exports in 2012 and supporting 7.8 million jobs in 2012,” according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures quoted in a recent White House report. [See The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System, Executive Office of the President, Jul.2013.] The report projects a four percent rise in the volume of international visitors in 2013, and continued strong growth in international travel to the United States through 2018.

Although this is undoubtedly good news, things could be better. As Marriot CEO Arne Sorenson points out in a recent Washington Post OpEd, the U.S. travel and tourism industry cannot afford to rest on its laurels, and changing the status quo means changing our immigration system to meet the demands of a larger traveling public, worldwide.

“The hospitality sector is integrally connected to the nation’s immigration system because it dictates our ability to welcome international visitors to U.S. destinations. According to U.S. Travel Association research, more than 1 billion people worldwide traveled outside their home countries last year – a historic first. Unfortunately, while global long-haul travel increased 52 percent over the past decade, U.S. long-haul arrivals increased just 2 percent.” [See U.S. Travel Industry Supports Immigration Reform, by Arne Sorenson, Washington Post, 02.Aug.2013.]

Sorenson praises the Obama administration’s efforts to improve visa application procedures in up-and-coming markets, like China and Brazil, but says this alone is not enough: our country “must be better prepared to take advantage of the explosive growth in travel demand building in emerging economies.”

The White House echoes that sentiment: as rising wages expand the middle classes in these emerging economies, more people will be able – and eager – to travel. According to Commerce Department forecasts, “tourists from China, Brazil, and India are expected to increase by 229 percent, 66 percent, and 43 percent, respectively.”

So how do we position the American travel and tourism industry to catch this wave? On this point, Sorenson concurs with the White House: pass comprehensive immigration reform! In his Washington Post article, Sorenson hails several provisions of the Senate-passed CIR bill that would make the United States a more tourist-friendly destination, such as the expanded Visa Waiver Program, new initiatives to cut visa-interview wait times, and hiring more CBP officers to speed the entry and exit of tourists at high-volume ports of entry.

The Senate bill also would give the travel and tourism industry a more stable workforce by creating a new W visa, Sorenson writes, allowing them to hire foreign workers for jobs that are otherwise difficult to fill. He points out that, “… even with the national unemployment rate at a stubbornly high 7.4 percent, many Americans are not interested in some of the entry-level positions we offer.” As the White House notes, the industry has been adding jobs steadily for the past three years, and needs immigration reform to secure the labor supply it needs to continue growing. As House members contemplate the pros and cons of immigration reform, during their long August recess, let’s hope they give due consideration to the enormous economic impact of the travel and tourism industry. It’s another compelling reason that passing CIR should top their agenda when they return.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.