(Greg Lemon) – Washington –- U.S. Representatives Joe Heck (NV-03) and Mike Quigley (IL-05), today, introduced the Jobs Originating through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, a bipartisan effort to expand international tourism and increase national security.
“Boosting our economy and improving national security are two of the most critical challenges we face as a nation and the JOLT Act addresses them both,” Rep. Heck said. “Expediting the visa interview process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program will bring more international travelers and tourists to destinations around our country and creates jobs. Making discretionary visa waiver security programs mandatory will improve our security at home and aid our intelligence community in the fight against global terrorism. I look forward to working with Rep. Quigley again to continue building broad bipartisan support for the JOLT Act and, hopefully, this year we can move the bill to the floor.”
“Increasing international travel opportunities and updating visa travel protocol will drive tourism dollars to cities across the country, including Chicago, which welcomed more than one million overseas visitors in 2013,” said Rep. Quigley. “Now is the time to pass the JOLT Act and modernize the Visa Waiver Program specifically, strengthening our national security and enhancing relationships with important allies like Poland.”
The JOLT Act is supported by the US Travel Association which released the following statement upon the bill’s introduction.
“The U.S. Travel Association applauds Representatives Heck and Quigley for introducing the JOLT Act,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “The travel industry fully supports reforming the Visa Waiver Program with additional layers of security and greater flexibility for responsible expansion. Strengthening and expanding the VWP is critical to our national and economic security.”
BOOSTING THE ECONOMY THROUGH TRAVEL
According to the U.S. Travel Association, direct travel spending in the United States totaled $888 billion in 2013 generating $2.1 trillion in economic output and $134 billion in tax revenue. Additionally, travel employed 7.9 million Americans and was among the top 10 employers in 49 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Overseas travelers represent the largest segment of this sector, averaging 17.5 nights and nearly $4,700 per trip.
Expansion of the VWP would also bring increased revenue to the travel industry. In 2013, the VWP was responsible for more than 19.5 million travelers, 61 percent of all overseas visitors to the United States. While visiting the U.S., these travelers generated $190 billion in total economic output for the U.S. economy and supported nearly one million good American jobs. Because of the VWP’s success, travel is our nation’s number one services export, generating a trade surplus of $75.6 billion in 2014.
INCREASING NATIONAL SECURITY
In order to protect the homeland and ensure VWP countries adhere to U.S. security standards, the JOLT Act requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to enforce security requirements that were previously considered discretionary. Among the requirements for program countries are:
- maintaining high-level airport security standards;
- assisting in the operation of an effective air marshal program;
- maintaining the highest level of security standards when issuing of passports and travel documents;
- cooperating with the United States’ initiatives toward combating terrorism; and
- cooperating with the United States intelligence community in sharing information regarding terrorist threats.
The Secretary is required to report to Congress on each VWP country’s adherence to these provisions.
In addition, since biometric or e-passports are the most secure travel documents available, the JOLT Act closes an electronic passport requirement loophole that previously allowed citizens of the 27 counties participating in the VWP before 2008 to use non-electronic passports if those passports were issued before October 2006. The JOLT Act would require that all individuals from program countries use e-passports.
Congressman Joe Heck represents Nevada’s Third Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.