Recommends Push To Promote Tourism Without Compromising Safety
Airlines for America (A4A) has presented recommendations to the U.S. government for improving security and immigration as a way to boost travel and tourism to and within the United States. "We need to act promptly and decisively to make travel and tourism promotion a national priority without compromising security and safety," said A4A Senior Vice President for Safety, Security and Operations Thomas L. Hendricks, who testified Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.
Domestic and international travel contributed $1.1 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2010 and was directly responsible for nearly 7.5 million American jobs. In 2011, 60 million international travelers visited the United States and spent an estimated $134 billion.
To facilitate and grow inbound travel and tourism, A4A urged the U.S. government to:
- Speed the issuance of visas, particularly for high-growth countries such as Brazil, China and India, in addition to expanding the Visa Waiver Program to more countries where security assessments support such expansion.
- Recognize, on a reciprocal basis, other countries' trusted-traveler entry programs that mirror the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Global Entry Program. Consideration also should be given to expanding trusted-traveler programs to specific categories of foreign passengers.
- Improve the processing of passengers entering the United States, which requires more CBP staffing to accommodate growing international travel, as well as modernize CBP information technology systems to better support passenger processing
- Avoid diverting CBP staff from existing airports and overseas pre-clearance locations to land-border crossings or to open new pre-clearance locations. Diversion of these limited resources would delay the processing of air travelers arriving at the nation's busiest airports.
Deputy Acting Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection Thomas Winkowski said in his prepared remarks that the agency has an extensive Trusted Traveler program. "Currently, almost 1.3 million travelers are enrolled in CBP’s four trusted traveler programs: Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), Free and Secure Trade (FAST), NEXUS, and Global Entry," he said.
"For travelers at our southern land border with Mexico, SENTRI provides expedited processing for pre-approved, low-risk travelers through Dedicated Commuter Lanes. CBP has developed and distributed a new, enhanced, trusted-traveler card with increased security features to all SENTRI members. SENTRI cards are Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant documents for entry into the United States by land or sea, and also provide expedited travel to the United States and Mexico.
"FAST expedites the processing and release of approved commercial truck drivers making fully qualified trips between the United States and Canada or to the United States from Mexico. Commercial trucks using FAST lane processing must be a Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) approved carrier; carrying qualifying goods destined for a C-TPAT approved importer; be driven by an individual in possession of a valid FAST-Commercial Driver Card; and have a high-security seal. On the southern border, manufacturers must also be C-TPAT approved in order for shipments to qualify for FAST release.
"NEXUS provides expedited CBP processing for pre-approved, low-risk travelers at pre-clearance airports, land border, and seaport crossings between the United States and Canada. NEXUS cards are WHTI-compliant documents for land and sea travel, as well as air travel when traveling to and from airports using the NEXUS program.
"Global Entry allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk air travelers upon arrival in the United States. Global Entry is available to U.S. citizens and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, Canadian citizens and permanent residents, Dutch citizens enrolled in the Privium program, Mexican citizens, and citizens of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Qatar through limited pilot programs. In addition, CBP has entered into joint arrangements with South Korea and Panama to allow their qualifying citizens and permanent residents to participate in Global Entry.
Winkowksi said Global Entry is an example of unprecedented partnership with private industry, airlines, and airport authorities. "Pre-approved, low-risk air travelers may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at one of the 20 selected airports. Global Entry allows vetted air passengers to clear CBP inspectional processing much faster than general passenger processing. Global Entry membership now includes those travelers enrolled in NEXUS and SENTRI, and the program has surpassed 940,600 eligible users with over 4,000 daily uses. Global Entry automated kiosks have been used over 2 million times – saving over 42,400 inspectional hours that CBP has reallocated to focus on the regular traveler queues. With Global Entry, CBP is able to focus resources on travelers about whom DHS knows the least, therefore providing overall enhanced screening to the traveling public.
"Last month, CBP published the Global Entry Final Rule, which makes this highly successful program permanent. The rule expands Global Entry to allow children under the age of 14 to participate, allowing more families to enjoy the benefits of the program. In 2012, CBP will expand the number of airports participating in the program to 24 airports," he concluded.
Also testifying before the subcommittee Wednesday was TSA Administrator John Pistole. In his prepared remarks, Pistole outlined several initiatives undertaken by the agency, such as expedited crew screening and Pre-Check. "As we review and evaluate the effectiveness of these aviation security enhancements, additional changes to the security screening process may be implemented in the future as TSA continues to work toward providing all travelers with the most effective security in the most efficient way possible." Pistole said. "Of course, TSA will always retain the ability to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, and no individual is ever guaranteed expedited screening.