The Real Importance of Visa Reform

By: Terence Donnelly, Vice President, Experient

I recently sat on a webinar provided by the Power of Travel Coalition on the topic of Visa Reform.  I knew getting a Visa to visit the United States was a challenge, but never realized the impact it had on our economy and the opportunity that faces us and our industry in the future.

Currently, if you are not from one of the 36 countries that went through the rigorous Visa Waiver Program (VWP) qualification process, then you must apply for a Visa for travel into the United States through scarce number of U.S. Consulate offices within that country of origin.  Countries that are not part of the VWP are notably China, Brazil, and India.  These countries alone represent 17 percent of international travel into Western Europe.  If the U.S. can capture this same percentage from China, Brazil, India, plus the other non-VWP countries, this would attract 98 million more legitimate overseas visitors, create up to 1.3 million U.S. jobs by 2020, and produce $859 billion in cumulative additional economic output.

So, how are we going to do this?  Obviously, the current system is sluggish and impedes travel to the U.S. by non-VWP countries (see picture).   For example, some travelers in China and Brazil have to travel thousands of miles to the nearest U.S. Consulate office for a face-to-face interview.  The wait times in these countries are as much as 100 days and can cost thousands of dollars for businessmen and families.

Overview of U.S. Visa Process

Click image for larger view

Through the USTA (US Travel Association) including other international travel advocates like IAEE, the following bills have been put in front of Congress:

S. 1601 – This FY12 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill was recently passed in the Senate and Needs House approval

H.R. 3039 – the Welcoming Business Travelers and Tourists to America Act of 2011

Both of these bills will address the Visa issue by:

  • Reducing the Visa Process to 12 days or less
  • Hire enough personnel to meet demand
  • Pilot use of videoconferencing technology for Consulate Visa interviews
  • Expansion of the Visa Waiver Program

 What Can You Do?

  1. Go to www.travelcoalition.org and click on the center of the page that says “Action Alert: Urge Congress to Support Visa Reform…” Follow the instructions on sending a message to your representatives from your state.
  2. On the same page (above) sign up to be added to the Power of Travel Coalition and get updates on how USTA and IAEE are doing on this important issue. 
  3. Send messages to your social networks utilizing the links above to get your colleagues and friends involved with this important issue.  It not only impacts the Travel & Exhibition industry, but all industries that rely on international visitors.

For more information on this important issue you can also visit www.smartervisapolicy.org

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