US Travel statement on Feinstein-Flake Visa Waver Program bill

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WASHINGTON, DC – “The US travel community strongly supports sensible security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program.

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WASHINGTON, DC – “The US travel community strongly supports sensible security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program. What we cannot support are steps that ultimately dismantle the program and set back America’s economy and our efforts to protect the homeland.

“The Feinstein-Flake VWP bill contains a number of sound proposals, but there are a universe of unanswered questions about the feasibility, cost and effectiveness of its biometrics provision. For one thing, it appears to be redundant upon existing policy, because biometric information is already collected from those travelers who clear CBP upon arrival, while they are still inside secure areas of U.S. international airports.

“Other questions that require detailed answers well in advance of a vote:

“Where will biometrics collection be conducted—U.S. consulates or airports? If it’s the former, how will they accommodate the boost in demand? If it’s the latter, does that entail stations at every single airport that flies to the U.S.? In that case, the bill could theoretically necessitate the costly installation of systems at hundreds of overseas airports.

“What kind of burden would this impose upon our partners in the VWP—by definition, America’s strongest security allies? Would there not then be ramifications for our broader diplomatic relationships?
“How will the new biometrics regime be funded? It is conceivable that it would prohibitively increase the fee for visiting the U.S., which would unquestionably diminish the $190 billion in annual economic output generated by VWP travelers to the U.S.

“When would biometrics collection be required—the day of travel, or at some point beforehand?

“The travel community is all in favor of a good-faith congressional debate about enhancements to the VWP, but if the Feinstein-Flake bill imposes redundant, costly, inefficient protocols, it could ultimately do more harm than good.

“The stakes are high. Negative impacts on international travel behavior may be a trade-off that many members of Congress feel like they can live with today, but at the very least they need a clear picture of what those are versus any purported security benefit.

“The approaches advanced by the Obama administration and the U.S. House indicate that they understand the complexity and sensitivity of this issue, and we hope that other legislation in the Senate ultimately follows suit.”

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.