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Tourism is Arizona’s lifeblood. Every year, thousands of frequent, low-risk, short-term visitors travel from Mexico into Arizona to conduct business, visit family and friends, or shop at local stores—spending billions of dollars

McSally/Stanton Bill to Expand Tourism Secures Strong Support in Arizona
New bill would boost tourism from Mexico for greater economic opportunity

Tourism is Arizona’s lifeblood. Every year, thousands of frequent, low-risk, short-term visitors travel from Mexico into Arizona to conduct business, visit family and friends, or shop at local stores—spending billions of dollars. Currently, pre-cleared travelers with U.S.-issued Border Crossing Cards cannot travel beyond Tucson or Yuma. Legislation introduced in Congress would change that. 

In late December, Sen. Martha McSally and Rep. Greg Stanton introduced the Southwest Tourism Expansion Act as companion bills in the House and Senate, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Rep. David Schweikert signing as original cosponsors. The bill would allow holders of a U.S.-issued Border Crossing Card to travel anywhere in the state of Arizona. The Southwest Tourism Expansion Act would create a 5-year pilot program and would allow pre-cleared visitors to enter without applying for an additional federal I-94 form.

“Arizona is open for business and when we allow approved visitors into more areas of our beautiful state, we unleash the potential for greater economic growth, more jobs, and additional sales tax revenue,” Sen. McSally said. “Our bill would start a pilot program allowing Border Crossing Card Holders to reach popular Arizona tourist destinations and businesses, generating hundreds of millions in dollars in additional annual spending.”

“This is an economic stimulus bill—it’s a common-sense change that will open Arizona to more business, more tourism, and more economic opportunities,” said Rep. Stanton. “Our state benefits in so many ways from a strong relationship with Mexico—and a pilot program that invites Mexican nationals to explore and invest more throughout our entire state can only strengthen those ties.”

Tourism is Arizona’s largest sector, with 192,000 jobs statewide generating $24.4 billion in total direct travel spending. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council, says the initiative will mean more tourism dollars throughout the state. A University of Arizona study conducted at the request of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) in 2015 found that expanding the border zone to the entire state could generate up to $181 million in additional spending during the first year. 

“Extending the tourism and shopping zone would allow these visitors to come to Phoenix-area shopping centers, attend spring training baseball games, or experience the natural beauty that Arizona has to offer by visiting Flagstaff, Sedona or the Grand Canyon,” said Mayor Mitchell. “Allowing for easier and quicker border crossings will encourage more business and personal travel to our great state, which means more spending and more tax generation to benefit all of our communities. This is a win for both tourists and Arizona’s economy.”

MAG, which has supported a travel zone extension for many years, had received strong support for the effort from dozens of partners across Arizona, ranging from metropolitan planning organizations to economic development agencies to businesses. One letter of support came from the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, representing 21 Tribal Nations.

“As sovereign nations, we see statewide extension of the border crossing card zone as an important economic opportunity,” said Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier. “Tribal nations have significant investments in service industries that depend on tourists, including visitors from Mexico.” 

Currently, Border Crossing Cards (BCCs) limit travel in Arizona to 75 miles entering through Arizona’s land ports of entry, about as far as the city of Tucson. In the Yuma region, travel is even more restrictive, with a 25-mile limit for visitors entering through the San Luis port of entry.

Applicants for BCCs must provide fingerprints, photography, employment information, a security background check, and an in-person interview. The BCC is a B-1/B-2 visa issued exclusively to Mexican citizens by the U.S. State Department and includes an RFID chip. Holders of these cards also must demonstrate that they have ties to Mexico, including financial, that would compel them to return after a temporary stay in the U.S. Penalties for abusing the visa include revocation of the BCC with a fee, as well as losing the privilege for future visa application. 

House Bill
Senate Bill

Published January 28, 2020

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The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is a Council of Governments (COG) that serves as the regional planning agency for the metropolitan Phoenix area.

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Title VI requires that no person in the United States of America shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity for which MAG receives federal financial assistance.

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