Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs
Janice L. Jacobs
As Prepared for Delivery
Remarks to the European Chambers High-Level Delegation
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H Street, NW
April 29, 2009
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Thank you for the introduction. It is a pleasure to be here today. Supporting the business relationship between the United States and Europe is an important mission of the Department of State, and I value the opportunity to talk to you about the many things we do to facilitate legitimate business travel.
These dialogues provide a unique opportunity to exchange views and best practices on a wide variety of important policy and practical issues.
As leaders of business, industry, and government, it is important that we work together to identify ways to make the travel system more efficient, while continuing to protect the security of our borders.
Our mission in the Bureau of Consular Affairs is to implement policies and procedures to substantially improve the border security of the United States while maintaining our fundamental commitment to protecting the openness of the United States to legitimate visitors.
We know that for our business and trading partners, the best advertisement for America is America. In business and in politics, there is absolutely no replacement for face-to-face contacts.
We understand the importance of these business interactions, and we do our best to facilitate trade and travel.
Our most notable effort is the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program.
In 2008, eight countries - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Korea, Malta, and Slovakia - were added to the program, bringing the total of VWP countries to 35.
Changes to the VWP program have helped move our travel screening from a country-based process to a more efficient, more fair, and more open individual-based process that allows more people to travel, more quickly and with less hassle.
And it’s working. In 2008, 17.6 million visitors to the United States utilized the VWP.
Although we do not foresee creating any subsequent “VWP Roadmaps” for groups of interested countries; engagement will continue on a country-by-country basis as appropriate given both statutory and resource limitations.
In those countries which have not yet qualified for VWP, we make special appointments available for student and business travelers. Appointments for business applicants are available within days in most places, and waits are fewer than 20 days at 90 percent of our posts worldwide.
We know that time is money. In response, we have moved our appointment forms online. Applying for a visa will soon transform into a 100 percent paperless process, significantly decreasing the time it takes to complete applications.
Our consular sections prominently display processing times and other key visa information on their websites. We are convinced that having more information about the process helps visa applicants arrive at the interview well-prepared; in return, we do our best to facilitate quick issuance for qualified applicants.
While here, I’d like to hear your feedback on another recent change the U.S. government has made to facilitate faster processing at our ports of entry.
Since its implementation on January 12, more than five million people have used the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
This pre-travel authorization system takes just minutes to complete and is valid for two years or the validity of the traveler’s passport.
Most travelers receive an answer on their ESTA application within seconds, and since its inception, more than 99.5 percent of applicants have been approved.
ESTA is another tool allowing us to quickly and efficiently screen passengers while preventing confusion and reducing wait times at our ports of entry.
Several overseas companies and government have provided useful and constructive feedback on the program in recent months, and we are working in conjunction with our DHS colleagues to make appropriate changes. We appreciate the feedback and assistance and welcome your input.
Finally, I'd like to talk a bit about our investment in intellectual talent. The American government continues to pursue improvements to business and temporary worker visa processing. Many of you take advantage of our long-term business investment programs, including treaty trader and H1-B visas.
What you may not realize is that last year the Department of State issued an all-time record number of student visas, through our expedited appointment process.
We believe that facilitating education is an important investment in both businesses here and those abroad. Student education and innovation are important keys to a healthy, successful, and cooperative business environment of the future.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to continuing our dialogue about ways to promote efficient, transparent and open travel with the world business community while promoting security for the U.S. and EU alike. I will now open the floor to questions.