Image via Shutterstock

The US Department of Homeland Security is “absolutely committed” to the country’s visa waiver programme, industry leaders at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Dallas heard yesterday.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of Homeland Security told the WTTC summit: “We are absolutely committed to the visa-waiver programme. It’s a vibrant programme.”

US Department of Commerce secretary Penny Pritzer warned the WTTC on Wednesday that the visa-waiver programme was “at risk” if member countries such as the UK do not share more passenger information with Washington.

Mayorkas said: “The programme has been under challenge in the US legislature.”

But he said: “For a country to participate in the programme, it must have underlying agreements with respect to sharing information.

“The programme has the wrong name because it implies we are relaxing safeguards. In fact, for an individual to avail themselves of the programme they must submit information.”

Mayorkas told the WTTC: “The threat we face is very real. We know that all too well with the recent tragic events.

“Brussels showed it is not just screening passengers that is a concern but that we must address the airport as a place of mass assembly.”

Yet he insisted: “Advancement in protection of the travelling public can proceed alongside advancement in the facilitation of travel.”

“I want to refute this conception that the government cares only about security and the private sector cares only about travel. Facilitating travel is a shared concern.”

He added: “The public is growing restless at longer waiting lines and we’re working to address that. Trusted traveller programmes and pre-screening passengers are the way to go.

“We have a few pre-clearance locations [already] where we have US personnel to pre-clear passengers so they can clear the airport straight away on arrival, and we’ve accepted applications from 10 more international airports.

“We are going to be soliciting more interest in pre-clearance in the coming weeks.”

Heathrow and Manchester are among the 10 airports to have been accepted for pre-clearance.

But Singer said Tokyo Narita airport and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic are furthest along the road to opening pre-clearance facilities.