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Four-hour airport lines prompt 43 percent of foreign visitors to avoid US

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Transportation,Travel,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Jobs,United States,Economy,Border Security,TSA

Staffing shortages and other problems plaguing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are forcing foreign visitors and business people to wait in security lines of up to four hours, 40 minutes at U.S. airports, prompting nearly half to say they will never return, according to a devastating new analysis by the travel industry.

The waits are so long, said the U.S. Travel Association, that just standing in line cost the nation $416 million in lost spending on cancelled activities like car and hotel rentals, or about $47 per visitor. Overall, the long lines at U.S. entry points at major airports, resulting in missed connections and business, will cost the U.S. economy $95 billion and 518,000 jobs over five years, said the group.

The USTA report revealed some of the worst peak wait times at five major airport entry points: two hours, 52 minutes at Washington Dulles, three hours 18 minutes at Los Angeles, three hours 45 minutes at Chicago O’Hare, four hours 28 minutes at New York’s JFK and four hours, 40 minutes at Miami.

"The U.S. welcomed 67 million visitors last year, and far too many of these valued customers spent the first hours of their trip waiting in line at U.S. air ports of entry," said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association. "International travel is a bright spot for the U.S. economy, but long lines and wait times that many experience during entry are deterring millions of potential visitors while our country is working to rebuild its global market share. The issue is not CBP officers themselves, whom even delayed travelers regard as competent and hard-working; the problems lie in policy and resources, which Congress must address."

The group is calling on Congress and the administration to help CBP improve and build toward a goal of attracting 100 million visitors to the U.S. annually by 2021.

The analysis reported that 43 percent of overseas travelers who’ve faced the long lines won’t return to the United States. The group figured that the lost business could cost the U.S. $12 billion.

The group also found that 44 percent of business travelers, many coming the U.S. to make major purchases, will not visit the U.S. in the next five years due to the entry process. But, they also found that almost two-thirds said they would reconsider if the U.S. got rid of the long lines.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.