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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 18, 2002

Travel industry opposes 30-day limit for tourists

By Tamra Santana
Bloomberg News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. travel industry might lose an estimated $2 billion a year under a proposed rule that would limit most tourist visa-holders to 30-day stays, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.

Walt Disney Co., Hilton Hotels Corp. and Marriott International Inc. are among the companies potentially affected by the rule change, said Rick Webster of the Travel Industry Association of America. The change was proposed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Nearly 1 million of the 7 million foreigners who entered the United States on visas in 2000 stayed longer than 30 days, the Commerce Department said. Their visits averaged 78 days and they spent $46 a day, so limiting visits to 30 days might cost $2 billion in lost business, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"There is grave concern that foreign visitors, particularly those used to longer visits to the U.S., will choose not to come," wrote the chamber — which represents 3 million companies and organizations, including travel companies such as Delta Air Lines Inc. — in a letter to the INS.

The rules are an attempt by the INS to tighten border security after Sept. 11. The INS has been criticized since the attacks for failing to keep terrorists out of the country. All 19 hijackers entered the United States legally, and three were using student visas.

Under a package of rules proposed by the INS, a tourist wanting to stay longer than 30 days must get approval to do so. Previously, the default time for foreign visitors was six months.

The rule change is an effort "to enhance homeland security" by more closely linking the amount of time a foreign visitor may stay in the United States with the purpose of his visit, said Chris Bentley, an INS spokesman.

The INS also plans to require tourists to declare whether they plan to seek student visas before they enter the country. Foreign nationals in the United States on tourist visas have previously been allowed to seek student visas without returning first to their home countries.