Unnecessary U.S. visa rules in countries such as China, India cost us billions in tourist bucks
Posted on May 16, 2011
Living here in New York, it is all too easy to conclude that America has no shortage of tourists from around the planet. But actually, the U.S. is getting its clock cleaned in the competition for foreign visitors.
While global travel by tourists and students and for business expanded over the past decade, America welcomed 2.4 million fewer travelers in 2009 than in 2000, costing a half-trillion dollars in revenue and 400,000 travel industry jobs.
The trend serves no one, least of all tourist-dependent New York, and must be reversed. The government has a big role to play – particularly the State Department, whose visa programs seem designed to drive away visitors.
The U.S. allows tourists and short-term business travelers from 36 countries – mostly in Western Europe – to hop on the next plane and enter the country without a visa. Elsewhere, would-be comers must apply for permission to walk on American soil for up to 90 days.
There’s a sound reason for the visa requirement: to bar illegal immigration by people who enter under the pretense of travel and then never leave. But there is no sound reason to operate a system that severely discourages visa applications.
As but two examples, consider what’s happening in China and Brazil – rapidly modernizing, increasingly wealthy countries that are generating ever larger amounts of travel.
China has 450 cities of more than half a million people, but only three have U.S. consulates that conduct visa interviews. Brazil, which is the size of the contiguous U.S. and has a population of 200 million, has a total of four American consulates.
Just to get an appointment at an American consulate, a Brazilian may have to wait as many as 142 days. Much easier to vacation in Paris, since the French waive visa requirements for Brazilians.
Brazilians who do come to the U.S. spend $5,114 per visitor – well above the 2009 average of $2,580 per overseas tourist. Meanwhile, the average Chinese tourist spends $7,000 on our shores.
Of course, faced with onerous visa restrictions, that tourist is in the minority to begin with: Of the 30 million Chinese who traveled abroad in 2009, a measly 735,000 came to the United States.
The tourism industry is rightly pressing the government to open more consulates in high-interest countries like Brazil, China and India while upgrading the consulates the U.S. does have to meet increased demand. That would mean installing video conferencing technology and boosting staffing. Since visa applicants pay a $140 fee, increased access traffic could essentially pay for itself.
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