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Immigration Alert: President Obama Issues Executive Order to Improve Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing

On January 19, 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Order aimed at improving U.S. visa and foreign visitor processing, and promoting travel to the United States. Highlighting the importance of travel and tourism to the U.S. economy and job creation, the President charged several government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS), with leading new initiatives and identifying strategies to enhance and expedite travel to the United States.

In issuing the Executive Order, President Obama recognized that stringent security measures imposed after 2001 may have contributed to at least a 30 percent decrease in the U.S. market share of travel and tourism globally between 2000 and 2010, and stated that a coordinated policy and new initiatives, consistent with national security, are needed to support the U.S. travel and tourism industry moving into the 21st century.

Improvements to visa and foreign visitor processing were identified as key goals, and the President ordered that an interagency process be adopted within 60 days to coordinate the implementation of regulatory changes and the evaluation of legislative proposals aimed at improving and expediting travel to the United States. In addition, the President ordered DHS and DOS to develop a joint implementation plan to achieve several specific visa goals including:

  • Increase nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012;
  • Ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application (recognizing resource and security considerations);
  • Increase efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals of Visa Waiver Program participants; and
  • Expand reciprocal recognition programs for expedited travel, such as the Global Entry program.

Requiring periodic progress reports on these stated goals, the President also directed that a publicly available website be established by the Department of Commerce to provide relevant metrics from the federal government, including information and statistics on visa processing, and entry times into the United States.

The Executive Order also establishes a Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness comprised of several federal agencies, including, but not limited to, DHS, DOS, and the Department the Labor. The Task Force is charged with developing a National Travel and Tourism Strategy and is responsible for recommending new policies and initiatives to promote travel opportunities throughout the United States, with the goal of increasing the United States market share of worldwide travel.

The Presidential Executive Order comes at a time when DOS has released information reflecting a significant increase in demand for U.S. visas globally. In a recent statement, DOS indicated that U.S. consulates worldwide had processed 9.6 million visa applications in fiscal year 2011, representing a 17 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. In its statement, DOS noted significant demand from some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, including Brazil, and China, where during the past five years, visa issuance has increased 234 percent and 51 percent respectively. In fiscal year 2011, more than one million visas were processed in China, an increase of more than 35 percent over the previous year.

Like the Startup America initiative, this Executive Order is one more signal from the White House recognizing the importance of foreign nationals to the United States economy. Additional information may be found at Executive Order and State Department Supports Global Travel Growth.

Gibney will continue to monitor these and related developments and provide reports and updates as they become available.

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This immigration article is provided as general information for clients and friends of Gibney, Anthony & Flaherty, LLP. It does not constitute, and should not be construed as, legal advice. The contents of this article may be considered attorney advertising in some states.

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