Requiring visa waiver countries to switch to electronic passports will lead to less international travel to the U.S and ultimately hurt the U.S. economy.
The United States House of Representatives passed an overdue $1.1 trillion spending bill on Friday, funding government agencies for at least another year. The travel industry should be deeply affected by the changes proposed in the bill.
Here’s a rundown of how the mammoth 2,008 page bill will affect the travel industry once signed into law by President Obama.
The big takeaway: It’s about to get a lot harder for some international travelers to visit the U.S.
Tacked onto the end of the omnibus spending bill is a new act meant to reform the visa waiver program and prevent terror attacks by people manipulating the American visa waiver system.
Beginning on April 1, 2016, visitors from visa waiver countries will be required to have electronic passports with embedded biometric information. The U.S. Travel Association cautioned last week that this regulation could end up costing the U.S. billions of tourism dollars over the next five years.
It’ll also prevent anyone who has visited Iraq or Syria from entering the U.S. with a visa waiver; they’ll be required to get a traditional visa. Homeland Security can add extra countries to this restricted access list of at any time.
Those who were in Iraq or Syria while serving in the military or there for government work will be exempt.
Visa waiver countries will now have to report lost or stolen passports within a day of being notified. If a U.S. agency determines that a visa waiver country isn’t sharing information effectively, the secretary of Homeland Security can terminate the country’s relationship with the visa waiver program.
Finally, the bill establishes that the U.S. Congress wants the United Nations to standardize globally the introduction electronic passports featuring biometric and biographic information.
The spending bill will also touch the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The TSA will be funded with about $5.7 billion through Sept. 30, 2017, based on several prerequisites.
One is that none of the funding goes towards employing more than 45,000 full-time security screeners.
Another relates to an upcoming study of the Department of Homeland Security meant to determine whether the TSA is deploying its resources in a cost-effective manner. It’s possible that the TSA will be tweaked if the study finds that its funds are being used inefficiently.
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Photo credit: A Chinese paramilitary police guard checks the documents of visa seekers outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing before letting them in. Chinese tourists, already among the fastest-growing and highest-spending groups of international visitors to the United States. Greg Baker / Associated Press