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President Signs Executive Order to Speed Visa Processing, Promote Travel to the U.S.
January 19, 2012
President Obama today signed an executive order aimed at speeding nonimmigrant visa processing and implementing other measures to increase travel to the United States. The order is part of a plan to spur U.S. economic growth and job creation through the tourism industry, which represents 2.7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and supports over one million U.S. jobs.

Faster Nonimmigrant Visa Processing Planned

Under the executive order, the Departments of State and Homeland Security are charged with developing a plan to ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks after they file a visa application. A pilot program in China and Brazil is to increase nonimmigrant visa processing in those countries by 40 percent and waive visa interviews for low-risk applicants, including foreign nationals renewing a previously issued nonimmigrant visa.

Expansion of the Visa Waiver Program

The administration is nominating Taiwan for membership in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and will explore other ways to increase the number of participating countries and the number of travelers who make use of the program. The VWP allows nationals of designated countries to enter the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa.

Expansion of the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program

The administration is planning to make the Global Entry program permanent and expand it to more U.S. airports. Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that allows members to benefit from expedited immigration and customs clearance at designated airports. Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and certain citizens of the Netherlands and Mexico. It is currently available at 20 U.S. international airports.

What the Executive Order Means for Employers and Foreign Nationals

Though the goals of spurring growth and lowering barriers to U.S. travel are laudable, the impact of the executive order will not be fully clear until implementation plans are released and the new programs are underway. It is also important to note that the executive order will not speed up the security-related administrative reviews that some visa applicants must undergo. These reviews can delay visa issuance for several months or longer. As such, employers with a multinational workforce must still plan for the possibility of visa processing delays notwithstanding the improvements sought by the executive order.

Fragomen closely monitors nonimmigrant visa processing and will provide updates on implementation of the executive order.