International Trade:

Easing Foreign Visitors' Arrivals at U.S. Airports

NSIAD-91-6: Published: Mar 8, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 8, 1991.

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Allan I. Mendelowitz
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the issues and conditions affecting foreign visitors' entry into 10 U.S. international gateway airports and specific conditions at the airports, focusing on: (1) the federal inspection process; (2) airport services and facilities; and (3) visitor facilitation improvement projects.

GAO found that: (1) the International Civil Aviation Organization recommended 45 minutes as the maximum time that federal inspection services should allot from arrival to clearance of all arriving air passengers; (2) according to federal inspectors, visitor processing times usually ranged from 1 to 3 hours during peak hours; (3) airport authorities stated that processing sometimes took 4 or 5 hours during peak times at 3 airports; (4) all of the airports provided basic services, including ground transportation, some type of translation service, lodging information, directional and informational signs, baggage carts, and currency exchange, but the quality and extent of the services varied; (5) federal inspectors at 12 airports considered airport facilities inadequate; (6) federal inspection services have planned or recently completed various projects aimed at improving visitor facilities; and (7) individuals and organizations concerned with easing visitors' arrivals at U.S. airports proposed actions to aid the federal inspection clearance process, such as allowing U.S. citizens to bypass immigration inspection and raising additional funds by eliminating user fee exemptions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: INS has implemented an accelerated citizen examination, an alternative to the citizens bypass system that basically meets the intent of this part of the recommendation. For the second part of the recommendation, INS has removed user fee exemptions. Customs has not removed user fee exemptions, and no legislation regarding this matter is pending.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should consider adopting proposals, in conjunction with the Secretaries of the Treasury, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and the Interior, and the U.S. Attorney General, aimed at increasing the speed and ease of federal inspection clearance process, such as: (1) using the U.S. citizens bypass system at all airports to ease the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) work load; and (2) seeking the removal of user fee exemptions to provide more funds to INS and the Customs Service.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce will expand its Gateway Receptionist Program subject to the availability of additional appropriated funds. USTTA request for funds to expand the Gateway Receptionist Program was not approved by the Office of the Management and Budget in the USTTA fiscal year 1993 budget request.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the head of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration (USTTA) to consider expanding its Gateway Receptionist Program, which benefits: (1) foreign tourists who speak little or no English; (2) federal inspectors; and (3) college students who are unable to make good use of their foreign language skills. Funds necessary to expand the program could be provided on a matching basis by USTTA and participating airport authorities, as is now done at most participating airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Transportation Facilitation Committee is designing a model plan for airport services and facilities for foreign visitors. The Committee met with the Subcommittee on Foreign Commerce and Tourism, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and told them they expect to complete the guidelines for the model plan by April 1993. NTFC has completed the guidelines.

    Recommendation: To encourage high quality foreign visitor services and facilities at all U.S. international airports, the Secretary of Transportation should request that the National Transportation Facilitation Committee design a model plan for providing high quality airport services and facilities for foreign visitors, incorporating some of the more innovative projects under way at various airports, and that the plan be completed within 12 months.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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