U.S. Reps. María Elvira Salazar from Florida and Susie Lee from Nevada introduced the Visitor Visa Wait Time Reduction Act in Congress on Friday, a bill that aims to reduce the lengthy visa wait times that have hampered the U.S. tourism industry’s recovery.

The bill requires the State Department to outline specific steps to address this problem at each embassy or consulate where the wait time for a visitor visa appointment surpasses 100 days. And to directly reduce visa wait times, staff from State Department offices would be temporarily reassigned to diplomatic posts where the wait for a non-immigrant visa appointment exceeds 300 days.

“The current wait times for non-immigrant visas are totally unacceptable and the State Department must take action to address this,” Salazar said. “Many of my constituents are suffering from this backlog, which keeps them from seeing their family members and hurts our local businesses which rely on tourism.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, the executive vice President of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, came out in support of the bill. The association’s economists reported on Thursday that the State Department’s delays in issuing visas could prevent 6.6 million people from traveling to next year, resulting in a loss of $11.6 billion in spending.

“We must stop turning away international travelers due to 400-plus day wait times that visitor visa applicants are facing worldwide. It is absolutely unacceptable and a significant deterrent to our national economic recovery,” Barnes said.

“Spending by international travelers is critical to getting the U.S. economy back on track, and reducing visa wait times and welcoming these visitors should be a focused national priority.”

Tags: tourism, visas