In a move sure to rile US allies abroad and the travel industry at home, the Trump administration is considering a plan to set up a much more adversarial system for deciding which non-citizens should be allowed into the United States. Even if they are only coming into the country for a short stay, like a vacation, foreign nationals could be forced to disclose financial records and asked to hand over things like their social media account passwords and the contact records in their mobile phones. Travelers could also face interviews in which they are quizzed about their “ideology” and their attitude toward the United States
The program, first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday morning, would keep President Trump’s campaign promise to impose “extreme vetting” on travelers entering the country as a means of keeping terrorists out of the US.
The stepped-up scrutiny of travelers would, reportedly, extend even to those coming from countries that are currently part of the visa waiver program, which allows residents of certain countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa.
Trump administration officials characterized the intrusive examinations as necessary to keep the country safe in a dangerous world. Gene Hamilton, senior counselor to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told the Journal, “If there is any doubt about a person’s intentions coming to the United States, they should have to overcome—really and truly prove to our satisfaction—that they are coming for legitimate reasons.”
But industry professionals described the move as potentially catastrophic for the travel and tourism business, a sector already suffering because the high value of the US dollar is deterring visitors from traveling to the country.
“It would obviously have a negative effect,” said Dr. Charles Goeldner, Professor Emeritus of Marketing and Tourism at the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado at Boulder. “People would go elsewhere. You go where you’re welcome, and this casts an image of not being welcoming.”
It would be particularly hard on the tourism industry to apply the proposed requirements to countries that are currently part of the visa waiver program, said Goeldner, who also sits on the board of the Travel and Tourism Research Association. “One of the goals of the visa waiver program was to make it easy for these people to come into our country and boost our tourism industry, and it’s been a very successful program.”
Others warned of the possibility of tit-for-tat retaliation against US travelers by the immigration enforcement services in other countries, making international travel less convenient for Americans. In the past, the US faced a diplomatic row with Brazil when that country temporarily imposed tougher entry requirements on Americans in response to similar action taken by the US against Brazilians.
However, some cautioned, it is also possible that other countries, particularly those with economies that rely on tourism dollars to a greater extent than the United States does, might be initially reluctant to do anything to deter Americans from visiting.