Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar highlighted the vital role tourism plays in strengthening local economies in Minnesota and across the country during an American Hotel and Lodging Association roundtable. Klobuchar has introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who also participated in the roundtable, to increase international tourism by making the visa process more efficient without compromising security. Senators Klobuchar and Blunt are co-chairs of the Senate Tourism Caucus and chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the U.S. tourism industry.

“Tourism is a powerful engine for job creation in Minnesota and across the country, creating better opportunities for American businesses and boosting local economies,”Klobuchar said. “By cutting through some of the red tape restricting growth in our tourism sector, we can boost international tourism and get the engines of our economy firing again.”

Klobuchar’s and Blunt’s legislation, the International Tourism Facilitation Act, would help alleviate excessively long wait times for international travelers to receive U.S. visas by allowing the State Department the flexibility to streamline and expand their processing services without compromising the security of U.S. borders or citizens. In countries such as Brazil, it can take more than 100 days to obtain a United States visa, while it takes Brazilian citizens approximately 12 days to receive a similar visa to the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security also recently announced they will be advancing a key provision in the Klobuchar-Blunt legislation to grant a waiver of up to three additional years (four years total) that would expand the period for foreign visitors to renew their tourist visas without requiring the tourist to undergo another in-person interview. Today travelers go through a complicated process often involving long trips to U.S. embassies and consulates every year they want to take a vacation in the United States. Lengthening this renewal period will facilitate more frequent vacations to America by these tourists and boost local economies while still ensuring national security.

International tourism plays an important role in creating U.S. jobs and boosting local economies.  In Minnesota, tourism is the fifth largest industry in the state, generating $11 billion in annual sales and providing nearly 11% of total private sector employment. In 2010, each overseas visitor to the United States spent an average of $4,000 during their stay and total international travel spending supported 1.1 million American jobs.   Furthermore, the tourism industry added nearly 106,000 jobs in the first seven months of 2011, which represented 10 percent of all jobs created so far that year in the United States.