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Obama vows to cut lines for foreigners arriving at US airports

COOPERSTOWN, New York--U.S. President Barack Obama vowed Thursday to cut long and frustrating lines at customs for foreigners arriving at U.S. airports in a bid to lure 100 million tourists a year by 2020.

Obama promised to maintain national security but ease the entry of travelers as he launched a new tourism push designed to create more American jobs.

Clogged entry points like New York's John F. Kennedy airport and Dulles airport outside Washington often anger foreign tourists — especially at times of the day when flights from Europe or Asia arrive en masse.

Some tourists must wait for an hour or more to get into the country.

Before traveling to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, Obama met tourism chiefs to discuss how to boost the industry.

“I've directed my administration to work with airports, airlines, hotel groups, states and cities to do more to improve the traveler experience and to reduce wait times for folks entering into the United States, all without compromising our security,” he said.

Obama said that Dallas/Fort Worth airport and Chicago's O'Hare airport had already cut waiting times to only a quarter of an hour for overseas tourists entering customs.

“You get off your plane, it takes you 15 minutes to get through if you're an international traveler. And that is a big deal,” the president said.

“If folks spend less time at the airport, they're more likely to come back for a return trip.

“And when they go back home, they tell their friends, you know what? America was there to greet us.”

Obama vowed to automate passport controls, add new staff at customs and bring in top talent from the private sector to find ways to make entry lines move faster.

Security and immigration bottlenecks have multiplied since the September 11 attacks in 2001 spurred new levels of checks and procedures.

Obama hopes to ensure that tourism figures, which hit 70 million visitors in 2013 reach 100 million a year by the beginning of the next decade.

The United States is currently the world's second tourist biggest destination after France, according to the World Tourism Organization, and Obama says that gaining the top spot would create jobs.

Obama asked his secretaries of commerce and homeland security, Penny Pritzker and Jeh Johnson, to “develop a national goal to improve the entry process and reduce wait times for international travelers to the United States, and action plans at the 15 largest airports for international arrivals,” a White House statement said.

In 2012, Obama set the goal of making the United States the world's top tourism destination by, among other things, granting more visas to people from China and Brazil.

The administration says nearly eight million jobs in America are linked to tourism.

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