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Waiving Visas Promises to Boost Tourism to the U.S.

While the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s proposal to expand foreign preclearance facilities is encountering stiff opposition from airlines, concurrent moves to expedite visa processing for foreign visitors are getting broad support.

The Homeland Security Department, for instance, made Taiwan’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program official in November and is considering adding other nations. The Taiwanese joined citizens of 36 countries — mostly in the European Union — who are allowed to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. Eleven other countries seeking the exemption are in “road map” status, which means the State Department is working to help them qualify.

The program eliminates the need for travelers to undergo a formal interview process to enter the United States. Among those under consideration are emerging economic powerhouses such as Brazil and Turkey, as well as other European and Middle East allies such as Poland and Israel, with large diasporas in the United States.

President Barack Obama bolstered these efforts last year as part of a broader national strategy to entice more foreigners to visit the U.S. as tourists. Obama instructed several Cabinet-level officials to cooperate in the effort.

In some countries, residents had to wait more than four months for tourist visas before the latest effort to ease entry.

One of the initiative’s biggest industry supporters, the U.S. Travel Association, released a report in 2001 showing that maximizing border efficiencies to capture a larger portion of international passenger traffic could boost exports by $390 billion over the next decade.

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