US eases Asia-Pacific business travel

Travel just got a little easier for Americans who do business across the Asia-Pacific region.

Business travelers and government officials will soon be able to bypass some airport lines on their way to any of 20 other countries that, along with the United States, make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

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Newly finalized regulations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) establish the U.S. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Card Program, authorized by legislation President Obama signed in 2011.

The program, already active in many countries, is meant to allow business travelers to move more freely between APEC countries without having to work through traditional application and visa channels.

“This action will allow U.S. citizens traveling to other APEC members to receive expedited processing that individuals from other APEC members receive when they visit the United States,” the DHS said.

Unlike most in APEC, the United States is considered a transitional member of the program, and will not allow visa-free travel to the U.S. for any foreign travelers from countries from which American visas are required — even if they have the APEC travel cards.

While still subject to the usual inspection and passport requirements, foreign travelers with the APEC cards are typically allowed to use airport lines otherwise reserved for flight crew members or diplomats.

Under the new regulations, U.S. travelers can apply for cards that will allow similar treatment at airports in other participating counties.

An estimated 10,500 to 15,000 U.S. citizens are expected to enroll in the program within the first three years, according to the DHS. No new cards or renewals will be issued after September of 2018, and all the cards will expire three years after that, unless Congress moves to extend the program.

The other APEC nations are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Vietnam.