“If you build it, they will come”—at least that’s what author Edward Alden argues in a recent Foreign Affairs article calling for the long-overdue expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
Between 2005 and 2010, 98 million visitors entered the United States from the 36 member nations of the VWP, which allows for individuals from member nation countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. Yet despite interest from numerous U.S. friends and allies around the world, since 2008 the program’s expansion has largely been put on hold.
Putting the program on the bench makes little sense. “By limiting the program,” Alden argues, “the United States is missing out on considerable economic, political, and security benefits.” And he is exactly right.
Since the program’s inception in 1986, the VWP has reduced the workload on U.S. consulate offices while encouraging travel to and tourism in the U.S. In this way the program helps to reduce backlogs in the continuously convoluted and bureaucratic U.S. visa system while also serving to strengthen U.S. public diplomacy efforts, promoting a positive image of the U.S. abroad.
But that’s not all. Efforts to judiciously add more countries to the family of the VWP nations also make sense from an economic and security perspective.
It’s certainly hard not to see how expanding business and tourist travel through the VWP would not be a clear home run for America’s ailing economy. In fact, by one estimate, efforts to regain America’s share of global travel and trade through programs such as the VWP could create upwards of 1 million new jobs over the next decade.
And then, of course, you have the enhanced security measures put in place with the program since 9/11 that not only help to ensure that potentially dangerous individuals do not gain access to the U.S. but also that member nations share critical security information on suspected terrorists and criminals as well as lost or stolen passports.
So what exactly are we waiting for?
The benefits are clear, and our friends and allies are waiting on the sidelines. Now it’s time for Congress to “go the distance” and provide the statutory means to expand VWP.