SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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PERMIT CERTAIN ALIENS WHO ARE AT LEAST 55 YEARS OF AGE TO OBTAIN A 4-YEAR NONIMMIGRANT VISITOR'S VISA
IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
JUNE 4, 1998
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSerial No. 89
Printed for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
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COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
HENRY J. HYDE, Illinois, Chairman
F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, Jr., Wisconsin
BILL McCOLLUM, Florida
GEORGE W. GEKAS, Pennsylvania
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
LAMAR SMITH, Texas
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
BOB INGLIS, South Carolina
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
STEPHEN E. BUYER, Indiana
ED BRYANT, Tennessee
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio
BOB BARR, Georgia
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHRIS CANNON, Utah
JAMES E. ROGAN, California
LINDSEY O. GRAHAM, South Carolina
MARY BONO, California
JOHN CONYERS, Jr., Michigan
BARNEY FRANK, Massachusetts
CHARLES E. SCHUMER, New York
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
RICK BOUCHER, Virginia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
ROBERT C. SCOTT, Virginia
MELVIN L. WATT, North Carolina
ZOE LOFGREN, California
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Texas
MAXINE WATERS, California
MARTIN T. MEEHAN, Massachusetts
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
ROBERT WEXLER, Florida
STEVEN R. ROTHMAN, New Jersey
THOMAS E. MOONEY, Chief of Staff-General Counsel
JULIAN EPSTEIN, Minority Staff Director
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCLAMAR S. SMITH, Texas, Chairman
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
ED BRYANT, Tennessee
JAMES E. ROGAN, California
MELVIN L. WATT, North Carolina
CHARLES E. SCHUMER, New York
HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
ZOE LOFGREN, California
ROBERT WEXLER, Florida
CORDIA A. STROM, Chief Counsel
EDWARD R. GRANT, Counsel
GEORGE FISHMAN, Counsel
MARTINA HONE, Minority Counsel
C O N T E N T S
June 4, 1998
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Smith, Hon. Lamar, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas, and chairman, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
Beckman, Steve, Federal Liaison, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism
Laird, Ethel, Ontario, Canada
McCollum, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida
Virtue, Paul W., General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalizatin Service
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Beckman, Steve, Federal Liaison, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism: Prepared statement
Laird, Ethel, Ontario, Canada: Prepared statement
McCollum, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida: Prepared statement
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Virtue, Paul W., General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalizatin Service: Prepared statement
PERMIT CERTAIN ALIENS WHO ARE AT LEAST 55 YEARS OF AGE TO OBTAIN A 4-YEAR NONIMMIGRANT VISITOR'S VISA
THURSDAY, JUNE 4, 1998
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Immigration
Committee on the Judiciary,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:08 a.m., in Room 2237, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Lamar Smith, [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Lamar S. Smith, Edward A. Pease, James E. Rogan, Ed Bryant, and Melvin L. Watt.
Also present: Representative Bill McCollum.
Staff Present: George Fishman, Chief Counsel; Laura Baxter, Counsel; Judy Knott, Staff Assistant; and Tina Hone, Minority Counsel.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCOPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN SMITH
Mr. SMITH [presiding]. The Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims will come to order.
I have an opening statement. I believe that the ranking member, Mr. Watt, has an opening statement; then we'll get to our first panel, our friend Bill McCollum, shortly.
Today, we will consider H.R. 225, which was introduced by our colleague, Representative Bill McCollum. The bill would amend the Immigration Nationality Act to add a new category of nonimmigrant visasvisitor's visa for aliens over the age of 55 who are citizens of Canada or certain Visa Waiver Pilot Program countries, and who meet certain financial requirements. The new visas would have a period of authorized admission for up to 4 years.
The bill has several very specific criteria. The alien must be temporarily seeking admission to visit for pleasure and have a residence in his or her own country that the alien has no intention of abandoning.
In addition, the alien or the alien spouse must: (1) be at least 55 years old at the time of the application or admission; (2) be a citizen of Canada or a country continuously designated a visa waiver pilot country for the 5 years immediately preceding the time of application for admission; (3) own a residence in the United States or have a spouse that owns such a residence; (4) have health coverage throughout the period the alien will be in the United States; and (5) maintain an income at least two times above the poverty level.
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Aliens who meet these standards will be eligible for admission to the United States for up to 4 years. The alien may renew the visa an unlimited number of times, but only in the alien's country of citizenship.
Finally, aliens admitted under this provision would not be eligible for employment authorization or for any Federal, State, or local public benefit except short-term, non-cash, in-kind emergency disaster relief.
Representative McCollum's bill is drafted narrowly to allow a limited class of older aliens, who seemingly pose little risk for overstaying their visas, to remain in the United States for longer periods of time. Under current law, a Canadian citizen may stay in the United States for a maximum of 6 months, and a citizen of a Visa Waiver Pilot Program country may remain for only 90 days.
It is not likely that retirees who meet the requirements will be a financial burden on United States taxpayers, because they must prove that they own a residence in their home country, possess health insurance, and have a minimum income in order to qualify for the visas.
At this hearing, we will hear from the author of the bill, Representative McCollum. We will also hear from Paul Virtue, the General Counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding the administration's position on the bill. And finally, we'll hear from two outside witnesses about why they support the bill.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, the gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt, is recognized for his opening statement.
Mr. WATT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll be brief. I think, in the interest of comity and time, I will defer an opening statement rather than giving my initial reactions and try to be open-minded about this bill until I hear the testimony.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Watt.
Mr. McCollum, if you'll come forwardyou are the sole member of our first panel, primarily because this is your bill, and we look forward to having your comments on an interesting and important subject to all of us.
STATEMENT OF HON. BILL MCCOLLUM, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And, first of all, I want to thank you for holding this hearing. I very much appreciate the opportunity to explain the bill and why it is, I think, an important bill, not only for the people affected, but, more importantly, because it is, for our country, for the economy, in the best interests of the citizens of the United States.
I would like to submit my written testimony for the record, Mr. Chairman, and summarize if I may.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Without objection, we'll make it a part of the record.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Thank you. The reason why this legislation is drafted and why it's before us today is because I became aware a few years ago, and increasingly have become concerned, with the fact that there are a substantial number of aliens who come here in their retiree years to live extensive periods of time, as much as they possibly can in this country, and then go back home again, never intending to become citizens. Now this is particularly true in Florida, but I suspect it's true as well to a substantial extent in Texas and North Carolina, and particularly States which have vacation homes and have settings that are attractive to those who live abroad in other parts of the world.
Now, those who I'm thinking of particularly are from those countries that do not have a problem with people overstaying visas for any other reason. Canadians come to mind as very large numbers that come to my State of Florida, and I suspect Texas and North Carolina and California, and so forth. But that is also the case of many of those who are also visa waiver country members participating now in a program that allows them to come here without a visa. That includes the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Netherlands, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Moreno, Spain, and Brunei. Now that, of course, could be added to, as the chairman well knows.
What we're seeing, though, is that, instead of being able to stay here any lengthy period of time, these folks have to return in a rather inhospitable fashion. If they're here, as all of those country members could be under a visa waiver program, they'll only be able to stay 90 days. And then they have to go back home, unless they have some other visa under many of the other categories that are here. But most of these folks, being retirees, don't fit in any of those categories. If they came here with aif they came here from Canada, they can stay 6 months. If they came here with a visa as a tourist visa, a formal visa, they could stay longer, but we're addressing, again, those countries which already haveCanadasix months' right to stay here without a passport or visa, and only the 90-day pilot visa waiver program countries in this bill.
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What the bill does, as the gentleman has suggested, the chairman has told us already, is to craft this very narrowly and to say, look, here are some folks that we'd like to be able to stay longer because they're going to spend money in our economy. They're going to ownand the prerequisite of this is owning a residence in the United States. They also still have to maintain a residence abroad. It's not a simple matter of coming here to become citizens or to become permanent residents. It's that they are truly here as visitors, but visitors for a longer-term purpose in the sense they are investing here at least in a home. And those people who invest in a home, we all know, are going to spend money on our economy.
In addition, these folks can't be people who are going to become dependent on our country for support. They have to demonstrate that they have twice the poverty level in the way of income; that is, if it's a spouse, both spouses have to be able to do that. So it's really, for a couple, four times the poverty level of income. They also cannot be eligible under this legislation for any Federal benefits other than the emergency care you describedno means tested benefits. So they don't gain the benefits that a permanent resident alien would gain.
In fact, the objective here is to distinguish them from intending citizens or permanent resident aliens by providing that they not be in that same category and do not obtain those benefits, nor obtain the benefit of being eligible for citizenship. The idea, again, being simply to be more tolerant of the length of time they can stay without having to go through the hassle of going back to their country, staying a couple of months, and coming back again, which is what most of them do.
We also require that they have adequate health insurance coverage while here in the United States. So they'd have to, to get this visa for 4 years as a non-immigrant visa for this purpose, they would have to demonstrate their health coverage was there.
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And overall, they cannot work while they're here. So they can't take a job away from anybody who's here in this country. And I would be more than happy to see the committee, if it finds other reasons, other ways that this bill should be amended, to make sure that we're not having anybody take advantage of us, or get any back door ways of getting in the United States. But I've done my best in the bill to draft it in the simplest terms possible, but to expressly narrow it down to a very limited categoryagain, people who are already identified by their countries as not being likely to abuse our system, because they're from the pilot visa waiver countries, or Canada, which, of course, we already recognize in more extensive ways. And they're going to be ineligible for working, ineligible for benefits, having to maintain a residence here and abroad, owning a residence here, if you will, as well as whatever they have abroad. And it's renewable. I would hope we'd do this.
And last, but not least, I'd like to comment that there are some examples already in law of rather extensive visa stay provisions. Now, some might say, ''why 4 years?'' And, again, it's a matter of trying to let them do this without the inconvenience.
We already have a 5-year visa for internationally-recognized athletes or members of internationally-recognized entertainment groups, for example. That's longer than this one. There are several for 3 years. They are various reasons why we grant non-immigrant visas to people. This seems to me, this retiree visa, to be a concept that would work very well within that framework, and, again, not cost us anything; and, in fact, gain us, which is the whole ideaa more convenient stay for these folks and more contributions they're obviously then going to be able to make to our economy by staying here and not being gone probably half or more of the time during a year when they otherwise could be here contributing.
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One last comment. And the last thing is I understand, or expect, I don't know this for sure, that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is going to be complaining that these folks, if they're going to be here for 4 years, would be intending citizens, and they should be permanent resident aliens and captured by all those things that are there. And I just remind the committee that it's the very opposite reason why we're doing this bill. We don't want these people to be permanent residents. We don't want themif they're intending to be citizens, that's one thing. That's great. Then, if they're going to come here and become permanent resident aliens, they're going to get the benefits that go with that. They're going to be able to work. They're going to be able to participate in society here. And they're going to take away benefits and jobs, and so forth. If that's not what they want to do, obviously, they'll still be able to do that if they want to do that. They can convert to become permanent resident aliens. That's a different track they would be taking.
But this is to capture those people who already are doing this sort of thing, except they're doing it with a very great deal of cost to themselves, inconvenience, and, I would suggest, cost to us, because we lose them as they travel back over for the inconvenience to wait a period of time, a month or two, and then come right back here again.
And so I would encourage the committee to adopt this bill and to pass it. I think it's a good piece of legislation, and would be glad to answer your questions. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. McCollum follows:]
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. BILL MCCOLLUM, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA
Mr. Chairman, thank you for providing me an opportunity to testify on the need for a non-immigrant retiree visa for various people who would like to spend some of their retirement years in the United States. H.R. 225 is meant to make it easier for individuals who already enjoy the ability to spend time in the U.S. to have a 4 year non-immigrant visa to allow them to spend larger periods of time here.
Foreign travelers supply a healthy boost to our economy and are an important part of many of our communities. Travel and tourism dollars from foreign travelers in the U.S. totaled $90 billion in 1996. In 1996, Canadian visitors who spent one or more nights in the U.S. spent over $8 billion while German travelers added $6.3 billion and tourists from Japan added $19.3 billion to the U.S. economy. Foreign visitors also account for hundreds of thousands of home purchases in the U.S. For example, it is estimated that Canadian citizens alone own 245,000 homes in the United States.
Currently, Canadians may stay continuously in the United States for 6 months each year without a passport or visa. Visitors from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP) can stay in the U.S. continuously for a 90 day period without a visa. H.R. 225 would allow these same individuals to stay in the U.S. for a continuous 4 year period by means of a non-immigrant visa. Since this visa is only intended for retirees, applicants would have to be at least 55 years of age to qualify.
The fact that these individuals can, in some ways, already spend some of their retirement in the U.S. reinforces the fact that this legislation is merely meant to reduce some of the procedural hurdles which currently deter foreign retirees from spending additional time here. For example, many German citizens use the Visa Waiver Pilot Program to come to Florida for 90 days at a time. Many of these individuals would like to spend more than 90 days in the U.S. but are scrupulous about not overstaying their visit. These foreign retirees leave the U.S. within 90 days, spend some time in their country and then come back to the United States for another 90 days. Many of these individuals may end up spending a large amount of time in the U.S. using the VWPP but they can do so only by constantly going back and forth from their country to the United States. Of course, foreign citizens also use the B2 visitors visa to spend time for pleasure in the U.S. Again, the use of the B2 visa requires the holder to return to their home after a relatively short period of time before coming back to the U.S.
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The 4 year visa period proposed in H.R. 225 is intended to reduce the need for foreign retirees to frequently travel back and forth from the U.S. to their home country in order to comply with U.S. immigration requirements. At the same time, a 4 year period would ensure that retirees making use of this visa do go home periodically to renew their status by demonstrating that they meet the requirements outlined in H.R. 225, such as residence in a foreign country which the alien has no intention of abandoning. The visa would be renewable as long as the application was filed from the retiree's country of citizenship.
There are clearly important practical and policy distinctions between longterm nonimmigrants and permanent residents holding green cards. This legislation does not aim to change that. For example, an important distinction between these nonimmigrant foreign retirees and permanent residents is that the amount of time they spend in the United States would not accrue for naturalization purposes. Also, a green card confers important benefits on permanent residents, such as the ability to engage in employment or receive government aid, which would not be available to a nonimmigrant under this legislation. H.R. 225 would not provide work authorization or eligibility for any Federal means-tested programs. Instead, these nonimmigrants would be required to own a residence in the United States, maintain health coverage, and receive income at least twice the Federal poverty level.
In its simplest terms, this visa would serve as a much needed mechanism in which foreign retirees would have the opportunity to comfortably reside in the United States. Let me give you an example of how this will work by using August and Gerda Welz as an example. August and Gerda Welz have spent more than $380,000 in the United States since taking up a residence in Palm Coast, Florida three years ago. Native Germans, the Welz's saw Florida as an ideal place to spend their retirement years, with its pleasant climate and sound economy. They own a home, pay taxes and volunteer in the community. Couples, such as the Welz's, represent the growing number of foreign retirees who wish to stay for an extended period of time in the United States.
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I have heard some concerns expressed that this legislation only applies to Canada and VWPP countries. In order to ensure that H.R. 225 does not foster nonimmigrant overstays or other immigration violations, it is prudent to limit the visa to those countries that have been determined to pose very little risk of such violations. H.R. 225 goes even further than the VWPP by requiring that a country must have been a part of the VWPP for at least 5 years.
By simplifying the process for this unique group of retirees, H.R. 225 would provide new and exciting opportunities for foreign retireesa practice that would benefit all parties involved. There is no reason to discourage such individuals from spending some of their retirement years in the U.S., contributing to the economy and enhancing our communities.
I urge you to give this legislation thorough consideration. Thank you again for holding this hearing and allowing me the opportunity to testify.
H. R. 225
To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit certain aliens who are at least 55 years of age to obtain a 4-year nonimmigrant visitor's visa.
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IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
January 7, 1997
MR. MCCOLLUM introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit certain aliens who are at least 55 years of age to obtain a 4-year nonimmigrant visitor's visa.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. NONIMMIGRANT ALIEN STATUS FOR CERTAIN OLDER ALIENS.
(a) DEFINITIONS.Section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)) is amended
(1) in subparagraph (R), by striking ''or'' at the end;
(2) in subparagraph (S), by striking the period at the end and inserting ''; or''; and
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC (3) by adding at the end the following:
''(T) subject to section 214(m), an alien seeking to enter the United States temporarily to visit for pleasure, and having a residence in a foreign country which the alien has no intention of abandoning, who
''(i) the Attorney General determines
''(I) is at least 55 years of age at the time of application for admission;
''(II) is a citizen of Canada or a country that has been continuously designated as a pilot program country under section 217(c) for the 5 years immediately preceding the time of application for admission;
''(III) either owns a residence in the United States, in the alien's own name, or has a spouse who owns such a residence; and
''(IV) will have health coverage, throughout the period the alien will be in the United States, consistent with section 214(m)(5); or
''(ii) is the alien spouse of an alien described in clause (i), is accompanying, or following to join, the alien, and otherwise meets the requirements specified in clause (i).''.
(b) ADMISSION OF NONIMMIGRANTS.Section 214 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184) is amended
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(1) by redesignating the subsection (j), added by section 130003(b)(2) of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Public Law 103322; 108 Stat. 2025), and the subsection (k), added by section 220(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Technical Amendments Act of 1994 (Public Law 103416; 108 Stat. 4319), as subsections (k) and (l), respectively; and
(2) by adding at the end the following:
''(m)(1) In the case of a nonimmigrant described in section 101(a)(15)(T), the period of authorized admission as such a nonimmigrant may not exceed 4 years. A visa issued under such section may be renewed for an unlimited number of additional periods (each such period not to exceed 4 years), but only where the application for admission is filed in the country of the nonimmigrant's citizenship.
''(2) The Attorney General may not authorize a nonimmigrant described in such section to engage in employment in the United States.
''(3)(A) A nonimmigrant described in such section shall not be eligible for any Federal, State, or local public benefit, except short-term, non-cash, in-kind emergency disaster relief.
''(B) For purposes of subparagraph (A), the term 'Federal, State, or local public benefit' means
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ''(i) any grant, contract, loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of the United States or a State or local government or by appropriated funds of the United States or a State or local government; and
''(ii) any retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefit, or any other similar benefit for which payments of assistance are provided to an individual, household, or family eligibility unit by an agency of the United States or a State or local government or by appropriated funds of the United States or a State or local government.
''(4) A visa shall not be issued under the provisions of section 101(a)(15)(T) unless the alien demonstrates to the satisfaction of the consular officer and the Attorney General that the alien has, and will have throughout the period the alien is in the United States, an annual gross income that equals or exceeds the amount that is two times the official poverty line (as defined by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, as revised annually by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in accordance with section 673(2) of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (42 U.S.C. 9902)) that is applicable to a family unit of a size equal to the number of members of the alien's household (including family and non-family dependents).
''(5) Any alien who seeks admission as a nonimmigrant described in section 101(a)(15)(T) is inadmissible unless the alien demonstrates at the time of issuance of the visa (and at the time of admission) to the satisfaction of the consular officer and the Attorney General that the alien
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ''(A) will have coverage, throughout the period the alien is in the United States, under an adequate health insurance policy (at least comparable to coverage provided under the medicare program under title ,XVIII of the Social Security Act); and
''(B) will have coverage, throughout the period the alien is in the United States, faith respect to long-term health needs (at least comparable to such coverage provided under the medicaid program under title XIX of such Act for a State in which the alien, or a spouse of the alien, owns a residence.''.
(c) EFFECTIVE DATE.The amendments made by subsections (a) and (b) shall take effect on the date that is one year after the date of the enactment of this Act.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. McCollum. I have a couple of questions, and I do appreciate what you're trying to do in this bill. As you just mentioned, you've got some safeguards in there. You've got the fact that the individuals have to have health care coverage, that they're not going to be able to work. It seems to me that you make a lot of good-faith effort here to have a bill that isn't going to encourage people to come in for the wrong reasons or to overstay. Also, as you pointed out, Florida and Texas, but especially Florida I suspect, have a lot of individuals who do want to live there, and spend a good chunk of their time there, even if they're not citizens. And we certainly have that in Texas, particularly in south Texas, just like you do in Florida. So, I understand, I think, completely the reason for the bill and your reasons for introducing it.
I have a couple of questions that just go to your opinion as to certain provisions in the bill. And let me begin with the provisions that you just mentioned about the 4-year period of term. You're going to hear shortly, and you may have anticipated this, that Mr. Virtue, who's the General Counsel for the INS, will say that there are already in existence the B2 non-immigrant visas that allow you to stay for 6 months, I believe, then extend it for another 6 months. Why is it that these types of visas are not adequate, in your opinion?
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Mr. MCCOLLUM. Well, my opinion is that 6-month visas, and even a year visa, is going to cause people, and they do, like the Canadians, to go back with rather great regularity at some expense to them. And there's not a good rhyme or reason to do that. I don't know why it's necessary to do that. Four years is arbitrary to a certain extent, but it's a number of years. It seems like that's more reasonable for this type of category people than 6 months. Right now, in Florida, for example, somebody from Canada comes down ''for the winter,'' and they stay for 6 months. I think many of them would stay for eight or 10 months in a row. They're probably still going to go back to Canada for a couple months out of the year, if they were given that option.
And we can say, well, let's just extend this, and they could apply for the extension, but they don't do that. That's a big hassle, because they're going to go back. And then, the next year, they can't get another extension, so they're going to go back. We lose their business, frankly. We lose their contribution to the economy. We lose the amount of money that they're going to spend in Florida, or you lose it in Texas, or Mr. Watt loses in North Carolina; and there's no point in that. There's notI can't figure out any good reason why we should require them to go back.
Mr. SMITH. By the way, in Texas, our term of endearment for these folks is ''snowbirds.'' What do they call them in Florida?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. That's what they call them in Florida, too: snowbirds.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Okay.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. We'd just like them to stay a little longer. That's all. And hopefully stay a couple of years.
Mr. SMITH. And spend more money.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. By extending this that length of time, the several years, I think would encourage them to do that. They probably will go back anywayin between.
Mr. SMITH. One last question, and this has to do with the official poverty guidelines. I wasn't sure a minute ago when you said that both spouses have to earn, so a couple would have to be at four times the poverty level?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Yes, that's right. Each individual is treated individually, is my point, under the way this bill is written. And that could be adapted any way the Chair or the committee wants to, but the thinking here is to say that every individual involved is going to have to have twice the poverty level.
Mr. SMITH. So if it was a couple and one spouse did not have any income of their own, then the total income for the couple would have to be four times the poverty rate?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. That's right, which would be about $43,000 a year.
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Mr. SMITH. Okay. Okay, thank you. I don't have any other questions.
The gentleman from North Carolina is recognized, Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. McCollum, I have to confess that I have some apprehensions about your bill.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Fair enough.
Mr. WATT. I was trying to restrain myself from saying that in my opening statement, and I'm still trying to keep an open mind.
You may be aware that we have been making some concerted efforts to get to a point where we can revamp the visa waiver program because some of us believe that the criteria that's being used for countries to get into the visa waiver program is essentially an irrelevant criteria; that the criteria that really ought to be evaluated is visa overstays. And the last bill we passed where we extended the Visa Waiver Pilot Program included a provision that requires the INS to come up with a process for monitoring who is overstaying visas, not who has a good relationship in the country, which really I think is just basically irrelevant. I mean the denial rate in a country has little to do with whether a country ought to be in the visa waiver program. I think we all agree on that. We just haven't had any way of measuring who's overstaying and who's not overstaying.
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My point is that we really don't have any reliable information that I'm aware ofif so the INS won't tell us about itof what countries' citizens are overstaying their visas in the United States. Most of the evidence we have, in fact, as I recall, from a prior hearing, is that Canadian visa overstays are higher than any other countries in the world. So, I guess one question I would ask is, how does Canada get into this? We basically have a free-flow policy with them now that allows people to come back and forth whenever they want to come back and forth, basically. And, what's the rationale for including, first of all, Canada in this and then we'll talk about all these other countries?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Fair enough. The rationale for Canada is that they do have a restriction. They come here with a greater ability than the visa waiver countries. They can come and stay 6 months at a time whereas the visa waiver countries can only stay 90 days. That's the current law. That doesn'twhen you say free-flow, they can have a free-flow the same way. The other countries do. They're not distinguished at the present time. All those visa waiver countries can come in here without visas; it's just how long they can stay.
I would suggest something else, too, if I might, Mr. Watt, and that is that there is no pride of authorship on my part with regard to restricting this particularly to visa waiver countries. It's just that that seemed like a logical boundary to try this with. And I thought it would be more successful of passage. My own view of it is that we could set up another construct. I couldwe could offer any number of thingsprovisions such as the marriage fraud provisions now, where someone who is here on a retiree visa would have to go into an immigration office periodically and identify themselves, and so forth, and keep their address on record, and go through a bunch of hoops, if you will, why they're here, as opposed to going back home might be an alternative method of dealing with this, since I think that the category of people we've described here have to guarantee their health insurance, who are retirees or twice above the poverty level, et cetera, et cetera, are highly improbable individuals for visa overstaysfor being the type of people who would abuse the system or become wards, if you will, or dependents in some way on our government.
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But, nonetheless, I think that there are a lot of members of our committee, as well as the full Congress, who are going to be very uncomfortable if we don't have some simple, easier-to-explain, narrow boundary, if you will, for this effort, at least at the beginning. And that's why the visa overstay or visa waiver provision was put in the bill.
Mr. WATT. To your knowledge, is there any country in the world who gives any kind of reciprocal privilege to U.S. citizens?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. I'm not aware of it. I think we'd be paving a new path and setting a precedent. And I don't think that's all bad because that's good for us. We're simply doing this for them; that's another story. I'm not interested in doing something for people who don't vote for me any more than you are, even though I like themI mean, they're nice folks. I have no special reason to be kind to Canadians or special reason to be kind to Germans or Mexicans or anybody else. I really believe this is good public policy for the United States and for our States and our governments and our economy. And maybe the other countries, once they see this working, will give us the reciprocity. Probably that will be a little green light that goes off, and we'll see that happening. But I don't think it should be thought of in terms of we're doing this for their citizens' convenience.
Mr. WATT. What's your public policy argument? That one flew right over
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Well, I want to restate that
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WATT. What is the overwhelming
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Let's be very specific
Mr. WATT. What is the overwhelming public policy that we're trying to push here?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. About Florida, just to give you my State, being very provincial, we have a lot of snowbirds that Mr. Smith recalls from Canada. They're also from other parts of the world, particularly Canadians. They come down, and they stay a limited number of months. And they buy residences in this casesome of them do, not all of them. And this bill only covers those who buy residences. And then they go back because they have to. And while they're gone, we lose their dollars. They'd be buying clothes in Sarasota or Bradenton or Orlando, or wherever. They'd be buying groceries. They would be buying cars. They would be buying jewelry. They would be buying all kinds of things. They'd be consumer-spenders in Florida when they're otherwise gone in Canada. And that's really basically why it's good public policy.
Mr. WATT. So you're talking about an economic interest.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Yes, economic interest. Right. That's the only thing they're allowed to do. They can't contribute. They can't vote. But that's whatwhy do we care about them coming over here as tourists? It's so they'll spend their money. And if they're good people, then we want them because that helps our economy. And I'm sure it would help your economy.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WATT. Well, we just might make them citizens, if you follow that theory right on down the line.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. If they volunteer to do that. Remember, that's their choice. They have not chosen to do so; and, therefore, we can't force that issue. But we can give them incentives to be here, and encourage them to spend their money. And perhaps they'd be more likely to become citizens later. It would be fine with me. They'd be well-intended people, but they'd have to stand in line and go through the process.
Mr. WATT. Would you count this 4 years toward the 5-year waiting period?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. I would not unless they did something to declare themselves intending. And I think they'd have to stand in line with everybody else. I don't think we should give them some special
Mr. WATT. Would you exclude it, specifically?
Mr. MCCOLLUM. I have not specifically excluded it. But I think you'd have to take specific language and change the bill in order to make it count. I think they are excluded just by virtue of the fact that they're not counted now. And they wouldn't be counted under this bill.
Mr. WATT. One final question: You alluded to the fact that the 4-year term is an arbitrary time period.
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Mr. MCCOLLUM. That's true.
Mr. WATT. But you're talking about residencea person having a residence in another country and a person having a residence in the United States. It just seems to me that somebody's going to come here and stay 4 years continuouslythat is a long time to be a temporary resident. I have a lot of trouble with the duration of time. And I grant you that 4 years, 3 years, 2 years, 90 days, I guess, is arbitrary to some extent. But the longer it gets, the more difficulty I think I have with it.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Well, Mr. Watt, let me make one comment finally to you and just say that it is really a retiree visa. Underline the word ''retiree.'' And No. 2, we have precedents for long stays here. We let athletes come here and stay for 5 years. We let people who could be taking American jobs for certain specific reasons stay here longer periods of time than we normally would others. There are 3 years in here for a number of categories in current non-immigrant visas. This is a renewable, and some of those aren'talthough the athlete visa is renewable. So, I understand your apprehensions, and I would accept, if the committee works its will, a different length of time. But I think it should be lengthy enough to make it meaningful. I don't think a year, for example, is long enough. And I prefer it be three or 4 years, and I figured four. I came in under five. There is a 5-year non-immigrant visa for the athletes. So that's why I picked four. There is a reason for it. But it is, as I'm sure that the athlete visa, that's arbitrary too.
Mr. WATT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Mr. McCollum, thank you. And let me invite you to join us up here, if you would like to do so. And if you have some questions you'd like for us to ask, we'll be happy to do that as well.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. I appreciate that. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. You know what? Would you please remain seated? I looked to my right and saw the gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Pease, and want to allow him to ask questions.
Mr. PEASE. And you just sat down. You don't need to, Bill. I have no questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. Excuse me, Mr. Pease. Mr. McCollum, please come up.
We'll go to our second panel. Mr. Paul Virtue, General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Servicewe appreciate your being here as well, Mr. Virtue, and look forward to your statement.
STATEMENT OF PAUL W. VIRTUE, GENERAL COUNSEL, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Mr. VIRTUE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, members of the subcommittee. I am pleased to be here this morning to discuss H.R. 225, a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit certain aliens who are 55 years of older to obtain a 4-year, non-immigrant visitor visa.
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I guess the principal concern that we raise is one that was anticipated in the last discussion. That is that the we believe the existing framework with respect to the B2 visa is flexible enough and does have theand could address, I believe, some of the issues that Mr. McCollum, the sponsor of the bill, has expressed in terms of concerns with 6 months being too short a period. In fact, the B2 visa itself that is issued by the State Department is valid for a 10-year period. The typical duration of stay in the United States that is permitted by the Attorney General under the regulations is 6 months, but that is a regulatory provision and could be extended. In fact, in some circumstances the routine admission could be as a long as a year, even in the B2 circumstances. And that is subject to extensions under our regulations for 6-month periods of time. So the statute really doesn't restrict us in that area. And I think that's probably the principal point I'd like to make.
Currently, as well, the point has been noted that visitors from Canada don't need an INS document or a State Department-issued visa in order to enter and visit the United States as long as they are bona fide non-immigrant visitors to the United States. If, in fact, the B2 classification was used as an alternative to the T non-immigrant visa, then we may have to come up with some INS document that would have to be issued to Canadian visitors. And we think that, in and of itself, imposescould imposea substantial requirement on travelers as well as on the government, both from the State Department and the INS perspective.
The threshold question we look at in terms of whether to admit someone on a B2 category, which is the typical category for visitors, is whether the person is a bona fide visitor or whether that person is an intending immigrant. And the way the statute is set up, it assumes that someone who is applying for admission to the United States is an intending immigrant unless they show otherwise in terms of their intent for visiting the United States. So this visa category would really raise the question of whether T non-immigrants, which is the category that a letter that just happens to fall next in the statute, whether given 4-year multiple renewals of that visa, the person effectively is establishing permanent residence in the United States, with only brief periods of departure to that person's country of nationality. And that's really the question we have to askwhether this is more appropriately a category that should be addressed in terms of lawful permanent residence. There is no requirement, of course, for someone who is in a permanent resident category to seek United States citizenship and, in fact, many people do notor chose not to.
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We've noted a number of technical suggestions and corrections to the bill in our testimony, and I don't believe I have a need to repeat those this morning. They're included in the written testimony. But there are a few things. One is we point out that there is no provision for minor children to be admitted, only the spousethe non-immigrant and the spouse. And so that may result in a situation where, even if we admit the minor child for the first 4-year period, making a determination that he or she is not an intending immigrant, that minor child may have to return some day eventually to his country of nationalityhis or herafter having a spent a lengthy period of time in the United States.
As I mentioned, the imposition of a non-immigrant visa on persons traveling to the United States from Canada may also implicate some foreign policy issues as well. And it would, particularly in terms of the health care insurance requirement. That's a factor that we consider in assessing whether a person is likely to become a public charge today when we examine someone who's traveling here as a visitor. But the bill has specific health care requirements without a corresponding obligation on health care providershealth care insurance providersto offer that type of package. So we believe that places a burden on the traveler as well as on consular officers and INS inspectors at ports of entry, who would be required to examine to see the comparability of health care insurance with the provisions of the bill.
Finally, I guess, we can see no policy reason, if the bill is to move forward, to limit its application to nationals of Canada and Visa Waiver Pilot Program countries. The policy reason for VWPP is to reduce the burden on the traveler and on the government with respect to brief sojourns through the United States by nationals of a country where the visa refusal and overstay rates are quite low. This bill would require a visa. It would impose requirements that are designed to ensure that the person is self-sufficient. And since that is the casesince there would be an examinationthis would be different from VWPP; we would see no policy reason for limiting the application, if this bill is to go forward, to those particular categories.
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I just wanted to note a coincidence I had this morning. I jumped in the car on my way to work, and I noticed on the travel meter that the mileage was 225 when I started out this morning. And I went to the cafeteria to buy some coffee and a muffin, and it came to $2.25. So while we don't believe we can support the bill in its current structure, and we'd like to work with the subcommittee on some language or some different approaches, I may be inclined to play that number in the lottery today, if nothing else. I'm happy to answer any questions that the subcommittee may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Virtue follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF PAUL W. VIRTUE, GENERAL COUNSEL, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss H.R. 225, a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit certain aliens who are at least 55 years of age to obtain a 4-year nonimmigrant visitor visa.
This bill provides for the addition of a new nonimmigrant classification, ''T,'' for certain aliens, age 55 or older, who own a residence in the U.S., but are nationals of Canada or a Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP) country who seek to enter the U.S. temporarily as a visitor for an initial period not to exceed four years. To qualify, the alien must also demonstrate that he or she has sufficient health coverage and an annual gross income that is two times the official poverty line throughout the entire period the alien will be in the United States.
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The Immigration and Naturalization Service has reviewed H.R. 225 and has significant concerns with the bill as currently drafted. We have divided our concerns into policy issues and technical or operational issues. We would be willing to work with Members of the Subcommittee to draft a bill that would mitigate our concerns.
Our principal policy issue is that the existing statutory framework already provides for a temporary, or nonimmigrant, classification for an alien who seeks to enter the U.S. as a bona fide visitor for pleasure [See 8 USC 1101(a)(15)(B)]. The current visitor classification (B2), unlike the VWPP, is not limited to a specific maximum period of authorized stay in the United States and could accommodate those aliens who seek seasonal visits to their residences in the U.S. Generally, aliens qualifying for B2 classification are admitted for an initial period of six months with the maximum initial time period of one year. Aliens may request extensions of temporary stay as a B2 visitor or they may depart and seek admission anew as a B2 visitor. This B2 classification is often utilized to allow seasonal visitation, the typical reason for travel by nationals of VWPP countries. Currently, visitors from Canada do not need any INS documents to enter and visit the United States. If the B2 classification was used as an alternative to the proposed ''T'' nonimmigrant visa, we would need to develop a new document, or use a current document such as the I94, to evidence this special visitor status. The B2 classification, like the classification proposed in H.R. 225, does not permit the alien to work in the United States. The B2 classification also requires that the alien establish an ability to support him/herself in the United States and not be likely to become a public charge. A consular or immigration officer may consider an alien applicant's ability to cover medical expenses in making this determination. From an enforcement perspective, the INS would prefer to examine the bona fides of an initial application within this existing framework that would also allow reexamination when extensions are sought.
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Our second policy concern is that we find the four-year renewable visa premise inconsistent with the concept of ''temporary admission''. The threshold question is whether the alien is a bona fide visitor or an intending immigrant. It seems inconsistent to deem an alien a temporary nonimmigrant if he or she can be admitted for renewable four-year periods. This legislation raises a question as to whether a ''T'' nonimmigrant might, through multiple renewals of the visa, effectively become a permanent resident in the U.S. visiting his country of nationality temporarily only to get a new visa.
When examined from this perspective, H.R. 225 would allow for long-term immigration in a nonimmigrant or temporary classification. The bill requires that the alien have ''a residence in a foreign country which the alien has no intention of abandoning. . . . '' However, the bill requires a return to the alien's country of nationality for a new visa, but then permits a new admission for four years. This may be repeated with no specified limit. This period, or for that matter, any increment that contains no requirement that the alien remain outside the U.S. in between periods of stay, is at odds with the foreign residency requirement in H.R. 225. Moreover, H.R. 225 does not render section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) inapplicable to an alien seeking classification as a ''T'' nonimmigrant. Under section 214(b), every alien is presumed to be an immigrant until the alien establishes to the consular officer that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant, or temporary, classification. This is commonly referred to as ''nonimmigrant intent.'' Accordingly, few aliens would be able to meet the burden of proof and establish eligibility as a ''T'' nonimmigrant.
With the above stated, there are a number of operational and technical concerns the Service has with H.R. 225.
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Section 1(b) of H.R. 225 requires that an application for admission be filed in the alien's home country. This could be changed to read ''visa applications are filed . . . ''. An application for admission is made only at a POEas you are aware, a visa application is made before a consular office outside the U.S. The validity period of a visa is determined by the Secretary of State and differs from the period of admission and authorized stay granted by the Attorney General. We would be happy to assist the Subcommittee or other Members in drawing a clear distinction between the two validity periods. Also, the bill requires the alien to file the application in the ''country of the nonimmigrant's citizenship.'' If the intent is to require the alien to apply for a visa every four years, this should be changed to ''country of the alien's nationality'' as in section 222(g) of the Act. The term ''residence'' is used twice in H.R. 225 but has different meanings within the context in which it is used. There is an existing definition of the term ''residence'' in the Act which may be pertinent for one of the two of the uses of the term in H.R. 225. [See INA 101(a)(33)]
Secondly, the language implies that all aliens, including citizens of Canada who are currently exempt, by regulation, from the nonimmigrant visa requirement unless otherwise specified, will be required to obtain a visa. Imposition of a nonimmigrant visa requirement may pose important foreign policy issues between the U.S. and Canada. If, however, a Canadian citizen seeking ''T'' nonimmigrant classification is exempt the visa requirement, the determination of admissibility and classification must be made at the POE. Such a determination will pose an additional and significant burden on POE's, as the determination will involve review of considerable documentation, expertise in reading medical insurance policies, financial documents, etc. This rises to the level of a complex adjudication and is not traditional POE activity. Moreover, it could require additional resources not currently available for this purpose.
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As stated above, the Service has concerns regarding H.R. 225 and could not support the bill as drafted. While we see the provisions of the bill as inconsistent with the definition of temporary visitation, and feel that the existing B2 classification already can accommodate those aliens who are bona fide nonimmigrant visitors wishing to spend time in their residences in the United States, we would be willing to work with Members of the Subcommittee to examine alternative methods of developing this category, such as an immigrant category for this class of aliens.
I thank you for this opportunity to explain the Service's views on this proposed bill. In addition, the Administration is continuing to review H.R. 225 and expects to provide additional separate comments.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Virtue. And by the way, your official statement will be made a part of the record.
Leaving aside, for a second, such substantive issues as length of times, years, and the debate between nonimmigrant versus immigrant visa, are there any other qualifications other than those that have already been included by Mr. McCollum in the bill that you think need to be added in addition to the qualifications, for example, the health care coverage, the no work, the income level? Are there any other protections that you feel we need in the bill?
Mr. VIRTUE. Not that should be added I don't believe, Mr. Chairman. But it does create a seeming inconsistency that a person would be required to have a home in the United States, an intent with respect to traveling to the United States forand remaining for upwards of a 4-year period. It creates a bit of an inconsistency with non-immigrant intent and some of the requirements that are included in the bill. And, as I mentioned, the health care insurance is something that I believe we may have some comments included in the written testimony as a note that the administration is continuing to review 225, and I think particularly on the health care insurance issue, we may have some other written comments as well.
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Mr. SMITH. We'll look forward to getting those.
Mr. SMITH. One other question. The B2 visas that you mentioned repeatedly in your testimony and that I referred to a while agoI just want to make sure I understand it. It's 6 months; then it can be extended 6 months. Can it be extended indefinitely 6 months at a time, or is there a time limit?
Mr. VIRTUE. There is no time limit, but the real limitation isand the reason we look at that on a 6-month basis isto discern the person's intent with respect to whether they intend to remain permanently in the United States; and really the way this program is described, it seems that the intent is to remain permanently in the United States. And perhaps it should be treated in that respect.
Mr. SMITH. But I guess my point is that if, in fact, it can be extended 6 months indefinitely, there's very little difference between that and, say, a multiple-year visa other than just trying toa matter of an inconvenience or convenience to the person applying for the visa.
Mr. VIRTUE. Yes, I do want to note again that the visa itself is valid for 10 years, so there's no question about the validity of the visa. It's the duration of status in the United States, and it's that issue that we believe is appropriate to examine more frequently than an every 4 year basis. Now perhapsand I think we need to look at this ourselves anyway, because of the workload issueswe should look at whether the initial period should not be a year, because we're dealing, just in terms of workload, with somebody coming in for 6-month extensions on these B2 visas and it's a bit of a workload. So we need to look at that anyway. And so I think we ought to talk about what the appropriate period is.
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Mr. SMITH. Okay, thank you, Mr. Virtue. The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. Let me just pick up on that point. When you get to the 6-month review under your current B2 regulations, do you require somebody to go back to their country or do you extendreview and extend that period while they're still here in the United States?
Mr. VIRTUE. We can review and extend that period while they're still here in the United States.
Mr. WATT. And theoretically that could happen all the way up to 10 years?
Mr. VIRTUE. Well, theoretically. But at some point, the issue of whether that person's intent is to remain permanently in the United States really becomes an issue, and it becomes, I would suggest, an issue in the vast majority of cases much earlier than 10 years or even 4 years.
Mr. WATT. What would be the official processand Mr. McCollum might want to hear the answer to this one, I'm surefor triggering an extension of the 6-month regulatory period to a longer period?
Mr. VIRTUE. Well, the person files a request for extension
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Mr. WATT. No, I'm saying for changing the policy, changing INS's policy from a 6-month review to a twelve-month review?
Mr. VIRTUE. That would be a regulatory process. We would
Mr. WATT. And how would that be triggered? I mean, is that something you all are likely to do or would you be likely to do it if you got a request from a Member of Congress, or how would that new regulation be triggered likely?
Mr. VIRTUE. Well, as I suggested, I think we need to take a lookand we recognize the need to take a look at that initial period of stay anyway, so we will be doing that. But it is alsoit is always helpful in terms of our examination to have comments, perhaps comments from the subcommittee or suggestions. We really haven't had concerns or complaints raised with respect to the current process as it relates to people traveling either from Canada or VWPP countries for a temporary period. So, we'd really have to have an understanding of what the concerns and what people believe the limitations are. But as I mentioned, we're going to be looking at least at that initial period anyway.
Mr. WATT. Let me ask my standard question. Where are you guys on figuring out how to measure visa overstays? How are we coming on our project that we have been so diligently pressing you to pursue?
Mr. VIRTUE. We are expanding the pilot project that we have for the automated I94 program that we tested in Philadelphia on a Frankfurt-to-Philadelphia air flight, or flight schedule, to other locations so that we can take advantage of the fact that the airlines are keying certain information into their computer systems anyway for purposes of issuing tickets. We're taking advantage of that for purposes of issuing the I94 document and also improving the ability of the airlines to collect that information at the end of the process. They simply have to run it through a reader, and the information is automatically downloaded to our database. So I have to say that, at the airports, we have great promise and expectations in terms of improving our data collection.
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In terms of the land borders, we have been studying some options for pilots at the land borders as well, in terms of automating the process there for collecting that information. But there are some logistical problems, as you probably know, in setting that project up. So we're not as far along as we'd like to be on the land borders as we are in the airports.
Mr. WATT. So we're not likely to make our desired objective time frame for having a visa overstay measuring?
Mr. VIRTUE. I think we will with respect to air arrivals.
Mr. WATT. But that's about 15 percent of the people who come into the country.
Mr. VIRTUE. Right. I think we will not meet the time objective with respectand I believe we've said thatwith respect to the collection at the land ports, although we're working on it.
Mr. WATT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Watt.
I understand that currently we have other questions, and Mr. Watt has just asked a couple of questions that were on my mind as well. I have one more. Isn't, as a practical matter, it true that INS rarely, if ever, grants more than one 6-month extension to a B2 visa holder? Certainly, B2's are going to have to return to their country physically at least every year or maybe 18 months. Aren't they as well?
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Mr. VIRTUE. I think it's rare because it's rare that we have such a request. The typical situation is that the person comes to the United States, spends the fall and winter months in the United States and the spring and summer months in Canada. If we're dealing with Canada, particularly, that's the typical scenario. So I think it's rare, given that I think the applications for such extensions beyond what would be a 1-year period are fairly rare.
Mr. SMITH. If the B2 visa holder requested that 6-month extension, would it be routinely granted?
Mr. VIRTUE. If the initial 6-month extension?
Mr. SMITH. No, the additional extensions?
Mr. VIRTUE. I wouldn't want to characterize it as a routine. We examine the person's intent on a case by case and make an assessment of whether the person is intending to remain permanently in the United States.
Mr. SMITH. Okay, are there any other questions?
Mr. WATT. Just as a matter of curiosity.
Mr. SMITH. Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. What percentage of those requests would you guess get granted and what percent get denied?
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Mr. VIRTUE. Well, I'd really hesitate to guess on that. But we can certainly supply that.
Mr. WATT. If you could provide that information, that would be helpful to see.
Mr. SMITH. That would be good, too. I think Mr. McCollum would like to see that, too.
[The information referred to follows:]
The Immigration and Naturalization Service does not track this particular statistical information by visa classification, but rather by form type. The form I539 is used to apply for an extension of stay on a B2 non-immigrant visa. However, the I539 is used to apply for a change of status or extension of authorized stay for other non-immigrant visa categories as well, including B1 and others. During Fiscal Year 1998, of the 144,785 decisions made on the Form I539, 16,857 (or 12%) were denied.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Virtue. We appreciate your testimony.
Mr. VIRTUE. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. I'd like to ask the two members of the third panel to come forward and take their seats. They are Steve Beckham, Federal Liaison, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism; and Ethel Laird, from Ontario Canada.
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Mr. Beckham, we're going to start with your opening statement, if you'll proceed.
STATEMENT OF STEVE BECKHAM, FEDERAL LIAISON, SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF PARKS, RECREATION AND TOURISM
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, sir. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, Congressman McCollum, my name is Steven Beckham and I am the Federal Liaison for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
I am here today to deliver the testimony of the director of our agency, William R. ''Buddy'' Jennings, and I begin by conveying my sincere apologies that he's not here today in my place. Today, is the final day of the South Carolina General Assembly, and, as perhaps you might relate, what happens in the next few hours will determine whether it was a wonderfully successful session for PRT or whether we go away shaking our heads.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here before you, and I thank you for holding this hearing, and giving me the opportunity to share with you the potential impact that Congressman McCollum's proposal would have upon South Carolina.
As you may know, tourism means major business in South Carolina. We are blessed with a beautiful coastline, boasting attractive beaches, such as the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand, Charleston, Beaufort, and Hilton Head. In the past the readers of Golf Digest magazine have named the Grand Strand as the top golfing destination in our country.
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In addition, we are also rich with the mountains of the Piedmont and vast cultural and natural and historic areas of interest, including a Congressionally-designated South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.
Last year alone, according to our PRT figures, $14.4 billion was generated by approximately 30,000,000 visitors to our State. Over 900,000 of these visitors are investors of international origin.
Over one quarter of a million, 250,000, of our South Carolinians derive their livelihoods from tourism.
The Visa Waiver Pilot Project has been a real boost to our efforts. This program has benefitted individual States since its implementation in 1988. Today, as you know, it has grown to include 26 countries granting admissions into the U.S. without the use of a visa. The travel and tourism industry, not only in our State, but nationwide, was delighted that Congress not only extended this program for another 2 years, but also expanded the criteria, which will allow more countries to participate in the visa waiver program, such as Greece and Portugal, which will join the program in the near future.
From our perspective, a tangible example of this successful philosophy is the relationship between Canada and South Carolina. While I realize that our Canadian visitors have always been visa exempt even prior to 1988, the longstanding peaceful border has led to an enduring international rapport between Canada and South Carolina. For the past 37 years, the Myrtle Beach area has celebrated Canadian American days each spring. This festival traditionally coincides with Ontario's school holiday, which enables families to visit and vacation together in South Carolina. For the past 6 years, Myrtle Beach and Burlington, Ontario, have honored each other's residents in a sister city relationship. Data from 1997 indicates that 673,000 Canadian visitors to South Carolina spend almost $182,000,000.
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Of course, South Carolina regards itself as an excellent retirement destination, with the trend increasing in that regard every year. For example, Sun City Hilton Head is a rapidly expanding development. The benefit of increasing the duration of senior citizens' stays in the U.S. by allowing a 4-year, non-immigrant visitor visa will be most conducive to this growing segment of our tourism enterprise. This will remove the burden placed upon the international senior citizens forced to return to their native country in accordance with current immigration policy even though they pose not security threat.
The bill, very importantly, also accounts for potential costs by qualifying income, residence, and health insurance criteria. The economic and cultural benefits are immense. According to the Canadian Snowbird Association, every Canadian snowbird who winters in the U.S. receives on an average 4.1 Canadian guests during their stay.
This proposal seeks to safeguard the U.S. as the number one travel destination for Canadian snowbirds at a time in which the U.S. has experienced a decline in overall Canadian visitors. Coming from South Carolina, which has enjoyed tremendous benefits from our Canadian friends, we can only encourage measures which will allow other destinations in the U.S. to prosper accordingly. Ninety percent of the Canadian Snowbird Association's 120,000 members winter in the United States. According to World Tourism Organization, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce's Travel Industry Office, and the Travel Industry Association of America, from 1996 to 1997, there was a 1.1 percent decrease in Canadian arrivals in the U.S. This represents 200,000 people and resulted in a 1-percent loss in the United States' overall market share of international visitors.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In closing, we believe the South Carolina economy, which relies so heavily on travel and tourism, would profit from extending the duration in which qualifying international retirees could visit the U.S. Undoubtedly, additional dollars would be pumped into our economy. In 1997 alone, international visitors spent $98 billion in the U.S. and helped contribute to the $26 billion travel and trade surplus that our country enjoys.
On behalf of our director, Buddy Jennings, and the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, I thank you and the members of the committee for hearing our views today.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Beckham follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF STEVE BECKHAM, FEDERAL LIAISON, SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF PARKS, RECREATION AND TOURISM
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is Steven Beckham and I am the federal liaison for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. I am here today to deliver the testimony of the director of our agency, Mr. William R. (Buddy) Jennings and I begin by conveying his sincere apologies for not being here in person today, however, this is the final day of the session for the South Carolina General Assembly and because some critical issues are yet to be resolved, he is unable to break away as originally planned.
Thank you for holding this hearing and for giving me the opportunity to share with you the potential impact Congressman McCollum's proposal would have upon South Carolina.
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As you may know, tourism means major business in South Carolina. We are blessed with a beautiful coastline boasting attractive beaches such as the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand, Charleston, Beaufort and Hilton Head. In the past the readers of Golf Digest Magazine have named the Grand Strand the top golfing destination in the country. In addition we are rich with the mountains of the Piedmont and vast cultural, natural and historic areas of interest including a nationally designated South Carolina Heritage Corridor. Last year alone according to our PRT figures, $14.4 Billion dollars was generated by almost 30 million visitors. Over 916,000 of those ''investors'' are of international origin. Over one quarter of a million (250,000) of our citizens derive their livelihoods from tourism in South Carolina.
The Visa Waiver Pilot Program has been a real boost to our efforts. The VWPP has benefitted individual states and the entire country since its implementation in 1988. Today, it has grown to include 26 countries currently granting admissions into the U.S. without the use of a visa. This streamlining of the process for these ''low risk'' visitors is a key to the international contribution to our South Carolina tourism economy. The travel and tourism industry not only in our state but nationwide was delighted that Congress not only extended this program for another two years, but also expanded the criteria which will allow more countries to participate in the visa waiver program. Our industry looks forward to having Greece and Portugal and other potential countries formally added to the program in the near future.
From our perspective a tangible example of this successful philosophy is the relationship between Canada and South Carolina. While I realize that our Canadian visitors have always been visa-exempt even prior to 1988, the longstanding peaceful border has led to an enduring international rapport between Canada and South Carolina. For the past 37 years, the Myrtle Beach area has celebrated Canadian/American Days each spring. This festival traditionally coincides with Ontario's school holiday which enables families to vacation together. For the past six years, Myrtle Beach and Burlington, Ontario have honored each others residents in a sister city relationship. Data from 1997 indicates 673,000 Canadian visitors to the state spending almost $182 Million dollars.
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Of course South Carolina regards itself as an excellent retirement destination with the trend increasing in that regard every year. Sun City Hilton Head is a rapidly expanding development. The benefit of increasing the duration of Senior Citizens' stay in the U.S. by allowing a 4-year Non-immigrant visitor visa will be most conducive to this growing segment of our tourism enterprise. This will remove the burden placed upon international senior citizens forced to return to their native country in accordance with current immigration policy even though they pose no security threat. The bill also accounts for potential costs by qualifying income, residence and health insurance criteria.
The economic and cultural benefits are immense. According the Canadian Snowbird Association, every Canadian Snowbird who winters in the U.S. receives on average 4.1 Canadian guests during their stay. This is quite a multiplier effect.
This proposal seeks to safeguard the U.S. as the number one travel destination for Canadian snowbirds at a time in which the U.S. has experienced a decline in overall Canadian visitors. Coming from South Carolina which has enjoyed tremendous benefits form our Canadian friends, we can only encourage measures which will allow other destinations in the U.S. to prosper accordingly. Ninety percent of the Canadian Snowbird Association's 120,00 members winters in the United States. According the World Tourism Organization in cooperation with The U.S. Department of Commerce's Travel Industry Office and the Travel Industry Association of America, from 19961997, there was a 1.1% in Canadian arrivals in the U.S. This represents 200,000 people and resulted in a one percent loss in the United States' overall market share of international visitors.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In closing, we believe the South Carolina economy, which relies so heavily on travel and tourism, would profit from extending he duration in which qualifying international retirees could visit the U.S. Undoubtedly additional dollars would be pumped into our economy. In 1997 alone, international visitors spent $98 Billion in the U.S. and helped contribute to the $26 Billion dollar travel and trade surplus that our country enjoys.
On behalf of Buddy Jennings and the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, I thank the Chairman and members of the Subcommittee for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to share our views with you.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Beckham
STATEMENT OF ETHEL LAIRD, ONTARIO, CANADA
Ms. LAIRD. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Ethel Laird. I am a Canadian citizen over the age of 55 and currently visit the United States for extended periods during the winter. I own my residence in Canada and also own a residence in the United States, specifically in Naples, Florida. My annual income is in excess of $50,000, and I currently spend approximately $1,000 per month on my expenses when in my residence in Florida. I would welcome the opportunity to spend longer in the United States than is currently permitted. I have no desire or not intent to work or earn income while in the U.S.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prior to traveling to the United States, I always secure the necessary travel medical insurance to cover me for the duration of my trip and would not consider entering the U.S. for any period of time without sufficient medical coverage for the entire period.
The reasons I would like to be able to spend additional time at my home in Florida are:
Number one, over the past 16 years wintering in Florida, I have developed friendships with many of my American neighbors and I would very much like the opportunity to spend more time with them.
Second, I would thoroughly enjoy the time I spend in the United States.
I'm acquainted with many other Canadians who would be very interested in spending more time in the U.S. if that was possible.
I would like to thank the committee for allowing me to speak today and certainly would encourage them to proceed with this matter in a positive manner. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Laird follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF ETHEL LAIRD, ONTARIO, CANADA
My name is Ethel Laird. I am a Canadian Citizen, over the age of 55 and currently visit the United States for extended periods throughout the winter. I own my residence in Canada and also own a residence in the United States, specifically in Naples Florida. My annual income is in excess of $50,000 and I currently spend approximately $1,000 per month on my expenses when in my residence in Florida. I would welcome the opportunity to spend longer in the United States than is currently permitted. I have no desire or intent to work or earn income while in the United States.
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Prior to travelling to the United States, I always secure the necessary travel medical insurance to cover me for the duration of my trip and would not consider entering the United States for any period of time without sufficient medical coverage for the entire period.
The reasons I would like to able to spend additional time at my home in Florida are:
1. Over the past 16 years of wintering in Florida I have developed friendships with many of my American neighbors and I would very much like the opportunity to spend more time with them.
2. I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend in the United States .
I am acquainted with many other Canadians who would be very interested in spending more time in the United States if that was possible.
I would like to thank the committee for allowing me to speak today and certainly would encourage them to proceed with this matter in a positive manner.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Ms. Laird. I notice that you say you have a residence in the United States in Naples. Is that area represented by a particularly able Member of Congress? Oh, it's not Mr. McCollum.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MCCOLLUM. It's Mr. Goss' district. [Laughter.]
Mr. SMITH. Oh, it is. I thought the Chairwell, that's still a particularly able Member of Congress, but I thought it might have been Mr. McCollum's area as well.
Oftentimes, during these hearings, speaking for many of us in Congress as well, we oftentimes think in the abstract or we think theoretically. And it's nice to have someone who's, in this case, a real example of the kind of individual that we're talking about.
So, I do have some questions I'd like to ask you about how the system currently works for you. As things stand right now, how many months a year do you spend in the United States?
Ms. LAIRD. Six months.
Mr. SMITH. Six months. And you've spent 6 months every year for 16 years just about?
Ms. LAIRD. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. And then you
Ms. LAIRD. Sometimes I'm home, like a month in the middle of the winter if I had to go home at Christmastime.
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Mr. SMITH. You go back in winter, and then come back to Florida for the warmth and the sunshine as well.
Now, the visa thatwhat kind of visa have you been coming in on so far?
Ms. LAIRD. I haven't used a visa.
Mr. SMITH. And because you're from Canada, you're not required to get a visa?
Ms. LAIRD. No, I don't need a visa. But I can only stay 6 months.
Mr. SMITH. Would you object if you had to get a visa from the consulate in order to stay in the United States for a longer period of time?
Ms. LAIRD. No.
Mr. SMITH. You would not. Okay.
And I notice that you fall within all the parameters as far as health care and income and meet all those requirements as well. So, it's primarily a matter of convenience that you'd like to have to stay longer?
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Ms. LAIRD. Just to be able to stay longer. I would still have to go home in periods during the year. But then I could stay 18 months maybe before going home or one whole year, and then go home. But then I would just stay home shorter periods.
Mr. Beckham, you made the point that it contributes to the economy to have a lot of individuals like Ms. Laird and others come visit. Is this a matter primarily of convenience? Do you feel that you would have more visitors or the visitors would stay for longer under a visa program that allowed for the 4-year period or do you feel that you get the same number of people, but they're just inconvenienced by the current strictures?
Mr. BECKHAM. We feel that this would increase the number of visitors that we would have. We see in South Carolina an emerging retiree community coming in, both domestically as well as internationally. And we feel that this might be more conducive to attracting more people.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Beckham. The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Beckham, do you all maintain statistics on which visitors are visiting under a B2 visa or do you have any information about that?
Mr. BECKHAM. Mr. Watt, at this moment, sitting at the table, I do not, but I certainly can find out for you.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WATT. Okay, so do you have any information about the number of visitors to South Carolina who would actually avail themselves of this particular processthis particular provision if the law were in effect?
Mr. BECKHAM. No, sir. I don't have solid statistics on that. I can see what we do have and get back with your office with that answer.
[Additional information was not provided.]
Mr. WATT. I take it that folks seldom come and stay 4 years before they go home?
Mr. BECKHAM. That would probably be right.
Mr. WATT. Some of my friends play golf that long. [Laughter.]
But not many of them.
Ms. Laird, have you personally ever applied for a longer stay in the United States, other than the 6 months?
So you always go back every 6 months. And if by regulation, the INS extended that from 6 months to 1 year, I take it, that would bemake it even less of problem for you.?
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAIRD. Yes, it would.
Mr. SMITH. Would the gentleman yield for a minute? You just mentioned something that made me want to ask Mrs. Lairdif you were to stay in the United States the vast majority of, say, a 4-year period of time or even an 8-year period time and were only to return to Canada for a few weeks each year, why is it that you wouldn't consider being aeither a permanent immigrant and then a citizen to the United States, if you are spending that much time here?
Ms. LAIRD. Well, I haven't applied, for one thing. And at this point, I have never even asked for a visa so that, therefore, I've gone with that idea, been able to stay in Florida 6 months and stay at home 6 months. But what I feel is that we could stay longer. It doesn't mean to say I'd stay 4 years. But just not that 6 months. Maybe 8 months, and then I would go home.
Mr. SMITH. I see. So you wouldn't necessarily be here 3 years, eleven months every 4 years or something like that?
Ms. LAIRD. No, I would not. No. But I would like to be able to come and go at longer periods of time, but then I would stay home less in Toronto.
Mr. SMITH. If you'll excuse a personal question, were you born in Canada?
Ms. LAIRD. Yes.
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Mr. SMITH. Oh, you were. So it's easy to understand why that would be considered home in a lot of ways.
Ms. LAIRD. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. Okay, thank you, Ms. Laird. Thank you, Mr. Watt.
Mr. WATT. I yield back the balance of time.
Mr. SMITH. The gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Pease, is recognized.
Mr. PEASE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Laird, I'm not very familiar with the health insurance programs in Canada, but I believe that you're in a government health care program. So when you come to the United States does your Canadian government health care plan cover your health expenses here or do you have to buy a separate policy to cover your time here?
Ms. LAIRD. I have to buy a separate policy.
Mr. PEASE. Okay. And you can do that for 6 months at a time?
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAIRD. Yes, I can buy that for 6 months at a time.
Mr. PEASE. Okay, and just one point. I guess I could find this out by asking other folks, but you deal with it every day. How does the cost of living in Florida compare to the cost of living in Ontario? And what is the exchange rate? Is it advantageous to spend time here?
Ms. LAIRD. That is very bad right now. The exchange rate is very, very, very bad right now. Actually, it is a little cheaper to actually live in Florida. And yet, from the exchange on my money, it brings it back down to a $1.45 we pay. It comes out more even.
Mr. PEASE. So really for you, it's not so much an economic decision as one of friendships and a place that you would like to be?
Ms. LAIRD. Yes.
Mr. PEASE. Okay. Thank you very much.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Pease. The gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Bryant.
Mr. BRYANT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. At this time, I'd yield to my colleague from Florida, Mr. McCollum.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. We're going to allow that today, but, as a ruleand this was only with Watts' agreement would we make the exception today.
Mr. WATTS. I'm happy to have him.
Mr. BRYANT. Ten minutes. We're actually saving time.
Mr. SMITH. I understand.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Well, I thank the chairman's indulgence, and I thank you, Mr. Bryant, for yielding. And I was trying to write these questions out. This a little more awkward, and I appreciate that.
Ms. Laird, I'm curious on this question about the visa and the no visa. You've come here without a visa as a Canadian every time you've come. If you could have a B2 visa, which I understand you could have, you could get a 6-month extension on that, which perhaps would be adequate for you. But would you, in your opinion, believe that most Canadians who come to the States, as you do, and have residences here go to the hassle, since they don't have to have butyou know, they don't have to have any visa to come here for 6 months. Would they go to the hassle of getting a B2 visa or extending and going to have to go in to get an extension of that visa, or they just normally take advantage of the 6 months when they don't have to have one and go back home and come back again? Isn't that really what's happening?
Ms. LAIRD. That's what's happening now. Yes.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MCCOLLUM. It's too much. My point is I don't want to overlead you in this, but it isthere's got to be a reason why Canadians aren't using these B2 visas. And I gather that that's largely because of the hassle involved.
Ms. LAIRD. The hassle of getting it.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Right. Mr. Beckham, do you see that as a problem as well, and you're here today testifying in support of this bill. There's no magic about the 4 years, but you've heard Ms. Laird say, 8 months she'd stay. I presume other Canadians in your experience have expressed interest in staying as they have to me a year or two, longer, maybe 3 years. But they're not going to the hassle of going in and getting a B2 visa and going through that renewal process if they have to do it, are they?
Mr. BECKHAM. No, sir. In my opinion, no.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. And that's really the problem with that process as it now exists.
You don't see any problem with any Canadians or any of the others who come in here as visitors in your area particularly, do you? Is that tourism generally happy with people who come visit?
Mr. BECKHAM. We celebrate our Canadian friends in South Carolina.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MCCOLLUM. That's really all I have, Mr. Chairman. I just wanted to point out that problem.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. McCollum. Thank you, Mr. Bryant.
Are there any other questions by any member?
If not, we thank you both for being here. You've contributed much to our knowledge and to our understanding of the bill and what your desires are. So thank you, again.
[Whereupon, at 11:09 a.m., the subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]