Meetings Mean Business (MMB) announced yesterday that the coalition leadership has gotten together "to ensure a united response from our industry," to the recent executive order on immigration and refugees. According to an email released late Tuesday by MMB Co-Chairs Richard Harper, executive vice president at HelmsBriscoe, and Paul Van Deventer, president & CEO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). "We are working closely with the U.S. Travel Association to monitor the evolving policy environment and analyze the implications for our industry."
The President's executive order is a very complex issue, as was made clear by widespread -- and inaccurate -- reports the federal Visa Waiver Program, which allows nationals of 38 countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa, was being halted. In fact, it is the Visa Interview Waiver Program that has been suspended. This allowed citizens of certain countries who do have to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. to bypass the requirement to have an in-person interview with a consular officer. This can be a difficulty in very large countries in which going to an interview could mean an overnight flight just to reach a consulate.
As a result, MMB has sent out a letter and a survey to its members and to "meeting planners and other industry professionals to assess the immediate and long term impacts," according to the statement. "We will also create a dedicated webpage on the MMB site with information about the executive order, talking points, frequently asked questions and other resources. This will be a centralized location with links to accurate and clear information from official government sources (including an FAQ) regarding travelers' ability to enter the U.S."
It will also be a first step, according to Harper and Van Deventer, who asked anyone with questions or concerns to reach out to MMB.
The statement stressed the need to "strike the right balance between enhanced security and travel facilitation," and to conclude the review of the visa issuance process as quickly as possible. It also offered a brief overview of what President Donald Trump's executive order actually says; and an outline of the seven next steps that MMB and the U.S. Travel Association are planning for this issue.
The full text of the statement is below:
MMB Public Statement
The administration's executive order on immigration and refugees has led to concern and confusion across the meetings industry. Our industry is all about bringing people together, fostering relationships, driving positive outcomes and supporting communities. We are continuing to monitor the issue and will be reaching out to our members to understand how the executive order is affecting them. At the same time, Meetings Mean Business joins with industry partners in reaffirming that it's critical to strike the right balance between enhanced security and travel facilitation. Together, we urge the administration to conduct its review of the visa issuance protocols quickly, and trust that it will yield an even more secure travel security system that protects international travelers and welcomes them into our country whether traveling for a meeting or leisure.
What the Executive Order Does
The executive order includes several provisions that temporarily suspend or limit travel from various countries around the world. Among the most significant provisions for the travel community, the executive order:
• Suspends entry to the U.S. for 90 days for nationals of seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen) traveling on immigrant and non-immigrant visas;
• Calls for review of visa issuance procedures and information sharing on visa applicants from foreign governments. Countries not sharing information on visa applicants with the U.S. can be barred from receiving visas in the future;
• Suspends the admission of most refugees for 120 days;
• Bars refugees from Syria for an indefinite period;
• Reduces the total number of refugees permitted to enter the U.S. in FY 2017 to no more than 50,000; and
• Requests expedited completion of biometric entry-exit tracking at ports of entry.
The purpose of the executive order is to give the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, the opportunity to review the current visa review process and determine: 1) what additional information is needed during the visa process to verify if an individual poses a national security threat; and 2) which countries are failing to provide that necessary information.
No Impact on the Visa Waiver Program
Many news outlets have incorrectly reported that the executive order suspends the Visa Waiver Program. This is not the case. The executive order does suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program, a distinct and separate program for countries where a visa is needed to travel to the U.S., which allows for visa renewal without an interview.
According to the U.S. State Department, this means that visa interviews are now required for all applicants except those that fit in the following categories:
• Applicants under the age of 14 or above 79;
• Applicants who held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application-a reduction from the previous 48-month period; and
• Diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations.
This provision also means that first-time Brazilian and Argentinian applicants, ages 14-15 and 66-79, who were previously exempt, will now be subject to visa interviews.
Meetings Mean Business is working closely with the U.S. Travel Association on this issue and ensuring the meetings perspective is a part of advocacy efforts. U.S. Travel is committed to engaging on all fronts to protect the interests of the travel industry and ensure we strike the right balance between our national security and broader economic goals. Specific actions include:
• Reaching out to the Trump administration, Congress, the media and other stakeholders to communicate both our industry's alignment on security goals and the importance of international travel to our economy, and to ensure efforts to enhance national security do not harm legitimate travel;
• Urging the administration to conduct its review quickly in order to return to admitting legitimate travelers;
• Seeking clarity from the administration on the order's impact on certain groups of travelers-for example, EU citizens with dual nationalities from the seven affected countries;
• Reinforcing the broad benefits of Brand USA, which in times of controversy plays a critically important role in communicating official information and building positive perceptions of the U.S. as a desirable travel destination;
• Educating the administration and lawmakers on the Visa Waiver Program as a key vehicle to facilitate secure international travel;
• Assessing the impact of the current executive order on inbound travel from large international markets due to negative perceptions; and
• Collecting data and feedback from the meetings industry to understand the impact on that sector specifically.