Aviation industry applauds Obama for speeding up visa process

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With Walt Disney World as a backdrop, Obama called Thursday for streamlining and speeding up the visa process for certain applicants in China and Brazil, the fastest-growing markets for U.S. travel.

"I want America to be the top tourist destination in the world," he said.

Among the changes proposed by Obama were allowing interviews to be waived for some very low-risk applicants such as individuals from any country renewing visas or, in Brazil, younger or older first-time applicants.

The changes have been called for for years by travel, business and retail advocates, who argue that visa delays hamper economic growth and cost billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

The airline association said Thursday that "streamlining and enhancing the visa application process for international visitors to the United States without compromising our national security is of vital importance to the U.S. airlines."

The Air Line Pilots Association, which is also based in Washington, agreed.

“We support the administration’s initiative to take affirmative steps in this area that will offer tangible results for U.S. pilots and the airline industry,” ALPA President Lee Moak said in a statement. “This initiative has been a priority of ours for the last few months and this is a clear illustration of how our union can help effect change."

Some members of Congress were not as generous about the proposal. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the proposal "flies in the face of the law we’ve had on the books because of 9/11.

"Only two of the 19 hijackers were interviewed by consular officers, so Congress mandated that all visa applicants be interviewed, with very few exceptions," Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released by his office.

"Once again, this administration is pushing the envelope and using their authority beyond congressional intent, allowing untold numbers of foreign nationals to bypass the in-person interview requirement, and risking national security in the process," Grassley continued.

Republican presidential candidates were equally dismissive, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney saying it was fitting Obama made the proposal in "fantasyland."

"There will be observations by me and others that perhaps there’s some poetic justice in the president speaking from fantasyland because, I’m afraid, he’s been speaking from fantasyland for some time now," Romney said. 

-This post was updated with new information at 5:18 p.m.