WASHINGTON -- The nation's top immigration official said Wednesday he is willing to consider the economic impact on the travel industry of an administration proposal to limit how long foreigners can visit the United States.
James W. Ziglar, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, agreed in a House committee hearing to meet with industry members to address their concerns, as long as Bush administration officials approve and the law allows it.
The Bush administration wants to eliminate the automatic six-month stay currently granted to international tourists. Instead, it wants inspectors to grant tourists only as much time as needed to complete their trip, up to six months.
Since the attacks, the INS has sought ways to better track foreign visitors. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers entered the United States legally on travel visas. Three were admitted with business visas and the 19th entered on a student visa. Ziglar said most of the hijackers still were legally in the country when the attacks occurred.
The proposal would not only help the nation fight terrorism, but also would cut down on people overstaying their visas, Ziglar said. He said the rule would make it more difficult for people to stay undetected in the United States for long periods of time.
"Individuals who seek to do harm to our country are more likely to expose themselves if they fail to play by the rules," Ziglar said.
But opponents of the proposal, including the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said the proposal will hurt the tourism businesses. Bush said the proposal could affect his state's tourism, which benefited from more than $5.5 billion in spending by foreign visitors last year.