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Arms wide open: US courts international travellers and students

The Obama administration is reaching out to the world – and inviting it in to the US. It just announced a National Tourism and Travel Strategy that aims to attract 100 million visitors by 2021. This represents more than a 50% increase over the number expected this year, and would bring in an estimated US$ 250 billion per year.

Commerce Secretary John Bryson noted: “This Administration will continue to do everything we can to support travel and tourism – our number one services export – which will help support millions of American jobs. I am proud of our work on the National Strategy, a product of a strong private-public partnership, which will make the US even more welcoming to visitors and reinforce our message to the world: the United States is open for business.”

In order to achieve their goals, the government will expand its promotional efforts to market the United States as a travel destination, enable and enhance travel and tourism to and within the United States, provide world-class customer service and visitor experience, coordinate and collaborate across government, and conduct research and measure results.

Some highlights of the National Strategy include:

  • A Travel and Tourism Dashboard, which will include changes in visa-interview wait times in key markets, international visitor and spending data, changes in flight-processing times at key international airports, and estimated travel-demand levels.
  • Legislation to ease travel for the 40% of international travellers who still require visas to enter the US.
  • Streamlining operations at the Department of State to keep visa-interview wait times low.
  • Updating the Recreation.gov website to help visitors make reservations at national public lands, including national parks.
  • Using technology to provide information and interpretive content to non-English-speaking visitors.
  • Increasing emphasis on visitor outreach and education, family-friendly activities, and adventures in US parks and wildlife refuges.

In 2011, the travel and tourism industry generated US$ 1.2 trillion and supported 7.6 million jobs. Real travel and tourism spending grew 3.5% in 2011, outpacing the 1.7% growth rate for the economy as a whole.

The United States leads the world in revenues from international travel and tourism, and ranks second in the number of international visitors. In 2011, 62 million international visitors came to the United States and spent a record US$ 153 billion on US travel- and tourism-related goods and services, which are counted as US exports.

Expanded STEM programme for international students

The Obama government is also looking at the country’s education sector and aiming to boost the contributions that international students make to this important part of the economy. The Department of Homeland Security has expanded the list of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programmes that qualify eligible international students to extend their student visas for optional practical training (OPT).

Under the OPT programme, international students who graduate from colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a designated STEM degree programme can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension.

By expanding the list of designated STEM degree programmes to include such fields as pharmaceutical sciences, econometrics and quantitative economics, the department said it is helping to bring the best, most qualified international students to the United States.

Sources: whitehouse.gov, US Department of State

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