By  on March 26, 2012

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Monday that would reform outdated visa laws and cut down on the red tape hindering tens of thousands of visitors from coming to the U.S. and depriving retailers of potential sales.

Major retailers have been lobbying the Obama administration to ease visa rules so that tourists, especially those from fast-growing economies such as China and Brazil, can more easily visit the U.S. and spend their money on luxury goods and fashion items here rather than in Europe.

“With the global travel market set to dramatically increase in the coming years, it is critical that we harness its power to boost our travel and tourism industries,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), one of seven lead co-sponsors of the bill. “This bipartisan proposal will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the next decade and inject billions of dollars in our country’s economy.”

The legislation follows an executive order issued by President Obama in January that charged the State Department and Department of Homeland Security with increasing visa processing capacity for tourists from China and Brazil by 40 percent this year and ensuring that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of their applications being received.

The administration said by 2016 the number of travelers from China is projected to grow 135 percent, while the number of those from Brazil is expected to increase by 274 percent compared with 2010. Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000, respectively, each trip to the U.S., according to the Commerce Department.

Senators intend to build on Obama’s plan to increase tourism and create more jobs with their bill, dubbed the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, or JOLT, which would require the State Department to establish “premium processing” procedures and allow for the expedited processing, for a fee, on nonimmigrant visas from India, China and Brazil, resulting in the issue of a visa within three business days from the date a visa is requested, if approved. The legislation would set new standards for visa processing, requiring visa interviews to be conducted within 15 days of requesting an appointment initially and, within a year after the bill is enacted, shortening that time period to 10 days.

The bill encourages the State Department to issue Chinese nationals longer visas than one year, and focus on processing visa renewals rather than facilitating travel by new visitors. It also aims to spur Canadian consumption, lengthening visas to 240 days from the current 180 days and permitting the State Department to lower visa application fees during off-peak seasons.

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee is slated to hold a hearing today on the bill and on promoting international travel to the U.S.

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