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Potential pilot program projected to generate millions of dollars for Arizona’s economy.

Federal Appropriations Bill Offers Potential Tourism Expansion from Mexico
Potential pilot program projected to generate millions of dollars for Arizona’s economy.

Tourism, Mexico

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. This legislation includes report language that encourages the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to examine considerations for a pilot program that would allow those visitors with the card to travel anywhere in Arizona and New Mexico.

“A potential pilot program would extend Arizona’s tourism and shopping zone so that business and leisure travelers can visit and enjoy Arizona’s many breathtaking landscapes and quality shopping experiences which in turn benefits our economy and our communities by generating increased tax revenues,” said Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). “This program is a win-win for both tourists and Arizona’s economy and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

MAG, which has supported a travel zone extension for many years, has received strong support for the effort from Arizona’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Rep. Greg Stanton, Rep. David Schweikert and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.

Modernizing and expanding Arizona and Mexico’s approved cross border travel fuels jobs, promotes commerce, and expands economic opportunity across our state,” said Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

“Our state benefits in so many ways from our strong relationship with Mexico—and the creation of a pilot program will strengthen those ties," said Rep. Greg Stanton. "This is a critical first step to expand the travel zone to those with valid Border Crossing Cards, and it's going to open Arizona to more business, more tourism, and more economic opportunities."

“Arizona’s economic growth has been created largely in part by our welcoming business environment and tourist attraction,” said Rep. Schweikert. “By expanding the accessibility for our neighbors in Mexico across the state we will continue to grow our economy and help support local businesses, I am pleased to see this report language in the final package, and look forward to seeing the potential economic growth it could provide for Arizona.”

“As a representative of a district that shares a border with Mexico, I know first hand the direct, real and positive impact of cross-border exchange in our region,” said Rep. Kirkpatrick. “Expanding the accessibility of our state to our southern neighbors will enrich our tourism industry, bolster our local economy and strengthen our relationship with Mexico. I’m proud to have worked with fellow members of the Arizona delegation and my colleagues on the Appropriations committee to get this much-needed provision added to the final package.”

Tourism is Arizona’s largest industry, with 194,000 jobs statewide, generating $26.5 billion in direct travel spending and $3.78 billion in tax revenue last year. A University of Arizona study conducted at MAG’s request in 2015 found that expanding the border zone to the entire state could generate up to $181 million in annual additional spending, bringing the total projected spending of Mexican visitors to Arizona to nearly $3.1 billion and a total jobs impact of 31,766. These numbers would be expected to increase each year.

The measure has broad statewide support among MAG’s many partners, including the Arizona Councils of Governments and Metropolitan Planning Organizations, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, the Arizona Tourism and Lodging Association, and the city of Nogales, Arizona.

Applicants for Border Crossing Cards (BCC) 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.

Published March 19, 2021

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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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