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U.S. Faces Pressure To Allow Travel From Europe

NOEL KING, HOST:

When President Biden met with European leaders in Brussels last month, they agreed to remove travel restrictions on Americans entering Europe. But the U.S. did not reciprocate. This country remains almost entirely sealed off to Europeans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on the Biden administration to lift those travel restrictions.

And Jon Baselice is with me now. He's the vice president of immigration policy for the Chamber of Commerce. Hi, Jon.

JON BASELICE: Hi, Noel.

KING: What's at stake here? Why is the Chamber taking a position?

BASELICE: There's a lot at stake here. And I want to thank you for having me here today. The travel sector got hit really hard by COVID. And there are so many jobs and livelihoods that depend upon hospitality coming back. And the only way you're going to be able to do it is if you fully get the travel economy up and going. And you cannot do that if the vast majority of consulates and embassies abroad are either partially or completely closed. A lot of economic activity will be forgone if we don't allow people to start coming back here and start doing so in a safe, predictable risk-based manner.

KING: In the statement that the Chamber put out, it was talking specifically about lifting travel restrictions on tourists from Europe. Has the Chamber done any studies on how much money hotels and airlines and car rental companies are losing every month because tourists from Europe are not able to come here?

BASELICE: The Chamber has not done any specific studies like that. I do know that some reports that I have seen would indicate that if nothing is done to ease entry restrictions and increase visa processing in the near future, the U.S. is projected to lose an additional 175 billion by the end of the year. It is incredibly difficult for people to get into the United States. And more often than not, it's individuals that are coming here for a work-based reason that can come here from Europe. But in terms of having large tourist groups, families being able to reunite with foreign national relatives, that has yet to come back in a major way. And until it does, we're going to have a cap on how high our economic growth can go. And it's going to limit the overall economic recovery.

KING: With the understanding that you are with the Chamber of Commerce and that you're not a public health official or a doctor, the delta variant, the highly contagious delta variant is spreading all throughout Europe. Is it really wise to open our borders to Europeans now?

BASELICE: While the delta variant is an issue, the key way to stop transmission is to ensure that people are vaccinated. The variant is already here. Given my very limited epidemiological and medical knowledge, it's my understanding that the vaccines that are widely distributed across the United States are effective at combating the virus.

KING: Is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocating for only vaccinated Europeans to be able to enter the U.S.?

BASELICE: No. What we're calling for is a risk-based way to ensure that we are removing entry restrictions on areas that are low-risk countries for us. And this goes in line with what the chamber signed on to with a coalition of, I believe it was, 24 total trade organizations that signed on to a framework to safely lift entry restrictions and restart international travel. There's definitely, you know, carrots and sticks that are part of our broad-based multi-association framework.

But there are issues in terms of vaccine availability, what types of vaccines are available to nationals of certain countries, and so on and so forth. And a vaccine is a very good way to ensure that someone is coming here presents a low risk to getting anybody infected. And from a public health standpoint, it's not the only way, even for a fully vaccinated individuals. My understanding - the folks that come here, they still have to have negative COVID tests. So we're all for following the science. The science has been telling us quite some time that it's possible again reopening international travel and to do so in a safe way.

KING: In the Chamber's view, how vital is restoring European tourism to the U.S. economic recovery as a whole? What kind of ripple effects do you see?

BASELICE: The ripple effects that I see is if you start to safely restart international travel, you're going to see certain parts of the country that are really tourism heavy. You're going to see a boost in those areas, so that you're going to see the ripple effect in terms of - the benefits will be felt by more than just one particular sector.

KING: Jon Baselice is the vice president of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Jon, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

BASELICE: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "A SERIOUS QUESTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.