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Bill Could Help Increase Tourism From Hong Kong, Macau And Other Regions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the bipartisan Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act, legislation that will create jobs by boosting foreign travel and tourism to the United States. The bill grants the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the authority to consider subnational territories currently treated separately from their countries under U.S. law for participation in the visa waiver program (VWP), enabling residents to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. The territories that could be considered under the Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act include: Hong Kong (China), Macau (China), Bermuda (U.K.), the Cayman Islands (U.K.), the British Virgin Islands (U.K.) and the Turks and Caicos Islands (U.K.).

The Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act aims to help the U.S. better compete globally for tourism markets with strong potential. For example, territories such as Hong Kong and Macau, with a combined population of more than 7.5 million, have been a missed opportunity for our country. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, out of the 86.8 million estimated departures Hong Kong residents will make from their territory in 2014, just 132,400 are expected to visit the United States. Hong Kong and Macau passport holders already have visa-free access to Canada, the European Union and over 100 countries around the world.

“The bipartisan support for the Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act speaks to the strong impact this bill would have on jobs and our economy,” said Senator Hirono. “Travel and tourism support 14.4 million American jobs, with one in eight of all private sector jobs supported by travel, and this bill will help our country develop opportunities in new foreign markets. With our current visa policy, our nation cannot compete fairly with Canada and the European Union for markets with tremendous potential, such as Hong Kong and Macau. This bill will help put us on a level playing field and I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan jobs bill.”

“This reform will help encourage greater tourism to the United States and increase economic activity. I am happy to join with my colleagues in this bipartisan effort,” said Senator Lee.

“The expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will mean additional revenue for the United States economy, and will create countless American jobs,” Senator Kirk said. “Every foreign visitor contributes on average $4,300 per visit, and the travel industry sustained 132,000 jobs in Chicago and raised more than $800 million in tax revenue for the city in 2012. Safely expanding the VWP makes sense for our nation and for the state of Illinois.”

“From hotels and diners to recreation and shopping, tourism can lift up local economies and help businesses grow and thrive,” Klobuchar said. “This commonsense, bipartisan bill would cut red tape and make it easier for visitors from around the world to come to America and support our U.S. businesses.”

Currently, 38 countries are VWP participants. Last year, Hirono attached a similar measure specifically for Hong Kong to the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate.

Hirono has long worked to promote tourism, Hawaii’s number one industry and about 19 percent of the state’s workforce. Hirono has teamed up with Lee on job-creating visa reform measures such as the VISIT USA Act and Encouraging Trade and Investment from New Zealand Act.

The Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act is supported by:
Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association
American Hotel and Lodging Association
U.S. Travel Association
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
National Retail Federation
National Tour Association
American Society of Travel Agents