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Testimony of

William S. Norman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Travel Industry Association of America


Before the

Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims

Committee on the Judiciary

U.S. House of Representatives



The Implications of Transnational Terrorism for the Visa Waiver Program


February 28, 2002




Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you regarding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which, in light of September 11, warrants a thorough but balanced review.  The travel industry stands ready to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that the safety of Americans, and all travelers – domestic and international – is the top priority. 


To this end, you have heard and will hear from government officials, terrorism experts and others concerning the technical aspects of this program.  However, the role of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), which represents all segments of the $584 billion U.S. travel industry, is different.  We want to share with you the reason Congress wisely chose to create the Visa Waiver Program, the impact of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. travel industry, and why Congress should continue to support this program as well as provide the proper resources to ensure that all safeguards required are fully implemented. 


Congress created the Visa Waiver Program in 1986 to encourage and facilitate international travel to the U.S., and to lessen the burden on U.S. consular offices that were issuing millions of travel visas to citizens from low-risk nations.  The VWP remains a vital tool that facilitates and encourages overseas travelers to see our great nation, both for business and pleasure.  In fact, eighteen million overseas visitors came to the U.S. last year visa-free as a consequence of the program.  International travel to the U.S. is a more than $100 billion slice of the U.S. economy, and these travelers support 1 million direct U.S. jobs.  International travel to the U.S. has regularly achieved what in most areas of U.S. trade is unthinkable – a positive balance of trade that exceeds $14 billion.   



The tragic events of September 11 have had a devastating impact on the travel and tourism industry.  In addition to the well-documented impact on domestic travel, international travel to the U.S. has been hurt considerably.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Tourism Industries Office, international arrivals to the U.S. in September of 2001 were down by almost 30 percent when compared to September 2000.  Total international traveler spending is projected to decline by 11 percent for all of 2001, which is a loss of $9.2 billion in international visitor spending.


In addition to encouraging international travel to the U.S., the Visa Waiver Program also allows the U.S. Department of State to focus precious resources on scrutinizing potential visitors from higher-risk nations around the world.  Now more than ever, the defense of our homeland requires the combined efforts of multiple federal agencies jointly managing our borders and security.  The Visa Waiver Program is a vital part of the federal government’s risk management effort, and it ensures that scarce resources can be properly targeted to countries and individuals that need a much higher level of examination. 


Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State does not have the resources and staff to begin issuing B-1 and B-2 visas to millions of visitors from the current 29 low-risk countries in the Visa Waiver Program.  With more than half of all overseas visitors entering the U.S. under the VWP, it would take hundreds of new consular staff and tens of millions of dollars to begin such an operation.  It would be difficult, if not outright impossible, for these visitors to obtain U.S. visas and they would vote with their feet and wallets to travel to other destinations, many of which do not require a visa for entry.


Two years ago, TIA appeared before this subcommittee urging your support for a permanent reauthorization of what was then the Visa Waiver Pilot Program.  With the very active support of this subcommittee and your counterparts in the Senate, we were able to gain approval for a permanent Visa Waiver Program. 


TIA worked with then chairman of this subcommittee, Representative Lamar Smith, and current Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee, to add additional safeguards to what was already a sound program.  Three very important enhancements were included in the rewrite of the Visa Waiver Program statute in 2000: 


(1) All Visa Waiver Program countries will now be reviewed no less than every five years to determine their fitness to continue in the program; (2) The Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of State, can temporarily remove a country from the program for emergency reasons (government overthrow, war, breakdown in law and order, severe economic collapse, or any other extraordinary event that threatens U.S. security); and (3) All Visa Waiver travelers will now be required by a date certain to possess machine-readable passports thereby improving inspections and enhancing security at all U.S. ports-of-entry.




The second of those three important enhancements was utilized one week ago in the temporary suspension of Argentina from the Visa Waiver Program due to that nation’s worsening economic and political situation.  While we deeply regret the removal of any country from the program, TIA supports this action.  Argentina’s temporary suspension demonstrates the program has integrity and these safeguards can be utilized in rare and unanticipated circumstances to protect U.S. security interests.


The December 2001 Department of Justice – Office of Inspector General report on the Visa Waiver Program highlights needed improvements in the management of the program.  As with other efforts to enhance national security, the recommendations contained in this report will require additional resources authorized and appropriated by Congress.  Both branches of government share in the responsibility to further enhance this critical program.


In a post-September 11 world, the Visa Waiver Program is just as important as ever, and the rationale that underlies its creation and existence is as sound as ever.  What is needed now are additional resources for the INS and improved management and oversight on the part of the INS.  The Visa Waiver Program should be embraced by Congress and the Administration as part of our overall homeland security program, and should be viewed as a means of strengthening both our national security and economic security.


In closing, let me state that the U.S. travel industry will continue to do all it can to promote the United States as the world’s leading travel destination.  We call on the federal government to do its part to help facilitate inbound travel to the U.S.  National security and economic security can both be achieved through working partnerships between industry and government.  The Visa Waiver Program is just such a partnership, and deserves the continuing support of this Subcommittee and the Congress.


Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.  I look forward to answering any questions you might have.