Bill to promote more travel to the US hits 100 co-sponsors

Legislation promoting more foreign travel to the United States is picking up steam and amassing bipartisan support. 

The measure, the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, known as JOLT, surged to 100 co-sponsors this week, nearly split between Democrats and Republicans. 

Bill co-authors, Reps. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have been pushing the economic benefits, including jobs growth potential, of their bill to attract supporters. 

Their tactic seems to be working. 

"The JOLT Act will bring economic growth to every region and district around the country while maintaining our national security," Heck said. 

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They were hoping to include their measure into an immigration system overhaul, but chances for the House to move forward evaporated this week when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said his chamber would not conference with the Senate on its immigration bill.

Provisions from the Heck-Quigley bill, designed to streamline the visa system, were included in the Senate immigration measure that passed the upper chamber this summer. 

That now leaves the bill on its own, unless another vehicle is found, to find a way to President Obama's desk.

Their measure includes an expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and would set up a pilot program to test whether videoconferencing could speed up the visa interview process. 

"Modernizing outdated policies will increase opportunities for international tourists, create jobs and drive valuable tourism dollars to cities across the country," Quigley said. 

It also would add 3,500 new customs officers at major U.S. entry points to work toward ensuring that foreign travelers wait no longer than 30 minutes to enter the United States. 

The effort is backed by travel industry groups, which for years have complained that foreign visitors to the U.S. have been turned off by rigorous security measures introduced since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

"It's a tremendous milestone to reach 100 co-sponsors and counting, but the number we're really focused on is 218," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

"We're confident the overwhelming bipartisan support for the JOLT Act will convince House leaders to move this legislation swiftly through the committee process and onto the floor."

Last year, international visitors added nearly $130 billion to the U.S. economy and generated more than $19 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. 

If extended to Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Israel, Panama, Poland, Romania and Uruguay, the VWP could increase international visitation by more than 600,000, add more than $7 billion to the economy and support more than 40,000 additional American jobs.

The bill also would expand the Global Entry program, which expedites entry for pre-approved, low-risk international travelers and encourage more travel from Canada.