The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System: Travel and Tourism

America has always been a nation of immigrants, and throughout the nation’s history, immigrants and visitors from around the globe have kept our workforce vibrant, our businesses on the cutting edge, and helped to build the greatest economic engine in the world. However, America’s immigration system is broken and has not kept pace with changing times. Our outdated immigration system has hindered our ability to attract legitimate international travelers and the best foreign workers. This isn’t good for the economy or the country. This is why Congress needs to pass comprehensive reform to fix our broken immigration system: doing so would go a long way to grow our economy, create jobs and improve America’s ability to compete for the best global talent. 

Today, we are highlighting another economic benefit of commonsense immigration reform: a boost to U.S. travel and tourism.

Travel and tourism, which is the number one service that we export and a key source of job creation, is reliant on a modern immigration system that allows us to efficiently welcome legitimate international visitors to America.

In 2012, international travel and tourism resulted in $165.6 billion in exports and the entire U.S. tourism and travel industry accounted for $1.4 trillion in economic activity and supported nearly 8 million jobs. That’s a contribution to the U.S. GDP and the job force that we should make every effort to grow.

In fact, this momentum has continued, the leisure and hospitality sector has created more than 450,000 jobs in the past twelve months. And tourism spending continues to be a key driver of economic growth for a number of regions throughout the country.

While we are already beginning to see the results of the Administration’s actions aimed at improving secure, efficient visa and foreign traveler processing and creating a National Travel and Tourism Strategy, there is much more to be done. The growing number of middle class families from China, Brazil, India, and other emerging economies who are using their new-found wealth to travel the world represent a tremendous opportunity for the United States. From those countries alone, the number of travelers to the U.S. is expected to increase by 229 percent, 66 percent, and 43 percent respectively over the next few years. With that many potential visitors who will help boost our economy, we must fix our immigration system to securely facilitate increased travel to the U.S. and to strengthen our travel and tourism industry. 

The Administration will continue to maximize our efforts and are extremely encouraged by some of the provisions in the bipartisan Senate immigration bill that support a robust and more secure U.S. travel and tourism industry.

In addition to providing the leisure and hospitality sector with a more stable workforce and improving infrastructure at our nation’s ports of entry, the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June takes specific action to enhance international travel and tourism while strengthening our nation’s security by:

  1. Reforming the Visa Waiver Program to allow the designation of additional countries which meet the statutory requirements, while continuing to  strengthen law enforcement cooperation and counter-terrorism and criminal information-sharing with the United States;
  2. Providing the State Department, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, with the authority to waive visa interview requirements for low security threat travelers, thereby allowing greater attention to higher risk travelers;
  3. Authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to expand trusted traveler programs;
  4. Authorizing the State Department to explore additional ways to expedite visa interviews;
  5. Directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to increase the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers by 3,500 over the next four years, which based upon analysis of a recent independent report is expected to result in more than 115,000 new jobs and $7 billion being added to the U.S. economy annually; and
  6. Permanently authorizing the Corporation for Travel Promotion and continuing to support BrandUSA’s marketing efforts abroad for America as a travel destination.

The bipartisan Senate bill has support from the travel and tourism industry, the broader business community, the labor movement, evangelicals, law enforcement officials, and the majority of Americans who all understand that passing commonsense immigration reform is the right thing to do morally and economically.

Now is the time for House Republicans to listen to the American public and pass the bipartisan Senate bill or similar comprehensive legislation.

Learn more about how commonsense immigration reform will strengthen the U.S. economy, and travel and tourism amongst other industries.


In June, the Senate passed commonsense immigration reform with a strong bipartisan vote. The bill is consistent with the President’s principles to further enhance border security, create an earned path to citizenship, hold employers accountable, and bring our immigration system into the 21st century. After the passage of the Senate bill, the White House released a report, The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System, outlining a range of benefits to the economy as a result of bipartisan Senate bill. According to the CBO, the Senate bill reduces the deficit, grows the economy, increases wages and productivity.   

This report was followed up by a White House White Board, as well as reports detailing The Economic Benefits to Agriculture and Rural Communities as well as The Economic Benefits of Providing a Path to Earned Citizenship. The White House also released state-by-state reports highlighting the economic benefits. 

Gene Sperling is the Director of the National Economic Council. Brandon Belford is a Senior Policy Advisor to the National Economic Council
Related Topics: Economy, Immigration
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