This year, 124 countries in 2017 relented to U.S. demands for higher visa standards and granted visa-free travel to Americans, though restrictions are still in place for some countries. For American travelers, that means they will not have to prove a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country to enter.
That’s good news for Americans going on spring breaks or other upcoming trips. The declines in international travel last year were the largest since the aftermath of 9/11. U.S. travelers spent an estimated $136 billion with foreign destinations in 2017, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That’s about 8 percent down from the year before.
How did the White House manage to win over so many of these countries? Here are the major measures taken to ease U.S. traveler restrictions.
The U.S. now requires countries to confirm or certify visas are valid before issuing them. The State Department can issue visas to countries if they do so. To be issued, a country needs to certify that it is aware of any identified applicants or targets for terrorist activity. They also must show their citizens are not targets for human trafficking. Other states are also required to verify nationals are not at risk, with more recent requirements on North Korea and Iran.
The U.S. wants more visas issued, so it will grant visas to international visitors if requested. Twenty-five countries must comply with U.S. changes, but more than 100 countries now work with the U.S. in exchange for travelers who arrive with visas. Another 25 countries must report at least a part of their population to government agencies to verify their nationalities.
Such changes will help bolster tourism to the U.S. as non-resident visitors contribute $1 trillion to the economy and contribute $700 billion to the U.S. job market, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Other countries upgraded their permissions to travelers now, such as South Korea, Mexico, and Mexico