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Senator Warner today applauded the President’s announcement that he will promote international tourism by issuing an executive order to speed the processing of tourist visas.

“I commend the President on this encouraging step toward promoting tourism by reforming the visa process for international visitors.  Tourism brings $1.25 billion in revenue to Virginia annually.  I have co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would utilize similar tools to shorten the wait times for international tourists,”  Senator Warner said. “In addition, I hope more action will be taken on visa reform that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to stay in the U.S. and create jobs. I have introduced the bipartisan Start Up Act to address these concerns, and I look forward to working with the President on these reforms as well.”

The U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in the international tourism market.  Chinese citizens who want to visit the United States often face waits of up to 120 days. In Brazil, it can take up to 145 days or more to process a U.S. travel visa, while a visa that permits a Brazilian citizen to visit the UK can be processed in about two weeks.

In October, Senator Warner cosponsored legislation that would incentivize the U.S. State Department – without risking security – to improve the visa process by allowing the Department to reinvest fees charged for visas if additional personnel will help improve efficiency; allow the Secretary of State, in appropriate circumstances, to grant a waiver of up to 3 additional years (4 years total) for foreigners to renew their tourist visas without requiring the tourist to go through an in-person interview each year; and require the State Department to provide a report to Congress outlining how the Department is using Department of Commerce travel data in order to further improve the visa process.

Today President Obama announced his executive order, which instructs the Departments of State and Homeland Security to increase tourist visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012 and ensure that 80% of applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application. The order also creates a pilot program to simplify and speed up the process and waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants.

U.S. Commerce Department figures show that the United States’ share of overseas arrivals has fallen from 17 to 12.4 percent since 2000, even as worldwide travel grew by 40 percent over the same timeframe.  The loss of even one percentage point of the total world international travel market potentially costs the United States 161,000 jobs.