The Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act of 2013 (the JOLT Act), a bill that contains what many Canadian snowbirds refer to as the 240-day visa option, has been reintroduced in the new US Congress.
The bill, sponsored by US Representatives Joe Heck (R-Nevada) and Mike Quigley (D-Illinois), aims to create American jobs by expanding the nation’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to more countries, in effect making it less cumbersome to allow foreign nationals to visit the US for tourism, business, and investment.
The Act was first introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) in 2012, but it has never made it to a vote of both Houses, though it was passed by the Senate. Its sponsors contend that its enactment could attract as many as 98 million more visitors to the United States, create a million US jobs, and generate as much as $859 billion in revenue by 2020, according to Heck and Quigley.
One small sector of the JOLT Act authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to admit qualifying Canadian citizens over 50, and their spouses, for up to 240 days a year (current law allows a maximum of six months, or 180–182 days). To qualify for the visa, the applicants would need to maintain a Canadian residence and either own a US residence or rent accommodation for the full length of their stay.
A similar bill passed the Senate during the last Congress but never got out of committee for a vote on the floor of the House. To become law, the bill must pass muster with both houses before it can be sent to the president for his signature. At this point, JOLT has bipartisan support of more than 160 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and with Senator Schumer first in line to become minority Speaker of the Senate, its chances of enactment have improved slightly.
During the last session of Congress, Canadian media got way ahead of themselves and repeatedly reported that passage of the 240-day visa was imminent and that Canadians would soon be allowed to spend eight months of the year in the more salubrious warm-weather areas of the US. That was a bit of media overreach as the bill never was close to passage in the full Congress, and it will still face strong opposition from many lawmakers who say the existing VWP has created a major security weakness that terrorist groups like ISIS could exploit.
Also, even if the overall Jolt Act were to pass, Canadians need to pay close heed to some of the background implications the legislation might impose, such as tax liability to the IRS and the potential loss of eligibility for provincial health care. At present, only Newfoundland and Labrador allows its residents to remain out-of-province for 240 days (eight months per year) while still remaining eligible for provincial health benefits.
We will be reporting on the passage, or stasis, of the Jolt Act through Congress. But in the meantime, don’t hold your breath and don’t expect radical overnight changes in these very complex issues. We’ll give you a realistic picture of this issue over time, not just quick snapshots.