Over the last five years, more than 333 million international visitors have traveled to the United States. Growth in spending from these visitors during this period has supported roughly 280,000 new American jobs. Preliminary estimates show the U.S. welcomed a record 74 million international visitors in 2014 alone, and these travelers spent a record $222 billion on expenses including food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment, and local transportation, supporting 1.1 million jobs.
The United States is not alone in our efforts to attract international visitors and the jobs they support. We are competing with countless global destinations; therefore, the Obama Administration is focused on efforts to improve how we welcome travelers into the United States. For example, we have reduced visa wait times for international travelers and reached a new agreement with China that extends the validity of tourist and business visas to 10 years and student visas to five years. In the three months since this smart reform was enacted, Chinese demand for U.S. visas has grown by more than 50 percent compared to the same period in 2014 .
We are taking these actions and others to ensure the travel experience is safe, efficient, and welcoming, while also protecting the security of this country. We want to travelers to return to the U.S. often and encourage their friends and families to visit, as well.
Today, the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security released a report to President Obama, titled “Supporting Travel and Tourism to Grow Our Economy and Create More Jobs: a National Goal on the International Arrivals Process and Airport-Specific Action Plans.” The report establishes a national goal: “The United States will provide a best-in-class arrival experience, as compared to our global competitors, to an ever-increasing number of international visitors while maintaining the highest standards of national security.” This goal was developed through extensive consultation with leaders from the airline, hospitality and travel industries, airport authorities, and state and local governments.
The report contains more than just a goal. To ensure success, the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security are establishing a new interagency task force, co-chaired by the Deputy Secretaries of Commerce and Homeland Security, which will engage with a broad array of industry stakeholders to identify the factors that drive a traveler’s perception of the international arrivals experience and decision to visit the United States. We will assess the arrivals process from plane disembarkment to primary passport inspection and baggage collection to exiting the airport through final baggage inspection, and the task force will use the results of the assessments to inform ongoing improvement of the arrivals process.
In addition, today’s report outlines 17 Airport-Specific Action Plans, developed in partnership with industry, to simplify and streamline the entry process at the nation’s top airports while also increasing security. For example, these airports are leveraging technology to offer a 21st century arrivals experience, and improving airport signage to make travelers’ entry into the United States easier to navigate. Thirteen different U.S. airports are installing 340 additional Automated Passport Control Kiosks through more than $20 million in public-private partnerships. These kiosks expedite air passenger inspection for U.S. and Canadian citizens, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, and certain other travelers at participating airports and reduce officer interaction time by 45 percent to approximately 30 seconds. By shortening the line to see a CBP officer, the overall waiting time of all arriving travelers is reduced. At the same time, these measures increase security by allowing officers to focus on the passenger instead of administrative tasks.
The Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security will continue our work with the private sector to reach the goal President Obama set in our National Travel and Tourism Strategy: to welcome 100 million international visitors by 2021. We will strive to make our arrivals experience the most welcoming in the world, so that international visitors continue to select the United States as their destination of choice.