US travel industry hits out at burdensome visa system

by Ray Clancy on May 16, 2011

US visa system scored

The complicated US visa system hurts tourism and must be reformed if the United States wants to attract lucrative tourism from countries like China, India and Brazil, according to travel industry chiefs.

The US Travel Association has drawn up a plan to help reform the visa process that it said could create 1.3 million jobs and add $859 billion to the economy by 2020 through increased overseas tourism.

‘The challenge we have is the unnecessary, burdensome US visa system. It’s really self imposed barriers that we put on ourselves as a country that have caused us to lose international travel and that have stymied international growth,’ said USTA president Roger Dow.

Travellers have criticized the United States for long waits to get a visa and for a lack of access in some countries to US consular offices. Some potential tourists have to travel across their country just for an interview for a visa.

Figures released by USTA show that while travel is the largest US industry export sector, the United States has failed to keep pace with other parts of the world such as Western Europe as a travel destination in the past decade.

Looking specifically at growing economies like China, India and Brazil, global long haul travel grew 140% from 2000 to 2010 and is projected to double again over the next decade. Only a fraction of that travel  and the billions of dollars in revenue it creates though went to the United States.

In 2010 more than half the Brazilians travelling overseas went to Europe while 29% went to the United States. Nearly three times as many Chinese, who spend the most on average while overseas, chose Europe over the United States.

Top reasons for not visiting the United States were the visa process and strict security measures, the association said, referring to 2010 travellers’ surveys.

The US visa process from beginning to end can take as long as 145 days in Brazil and 120 days in China, a USTA report said. In contrast, Britain takes an average of 12 days to process visas in Brazil and 11 days in China.

While the United States is the most frequently cited dream destination for Chinese tourists, France had 18% more Chinese visitors last year, a USTA report said. It said France’s visa application process is more efficient.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who chairs a subcommittee focused on export promotion and competitiveness, said the travel industry was important to help President Barack Obama meet his stated goal of doubling exports by 2014.

‘We see it as part of our economic recovery. I see this as a way to get jobs in our country. Since 9/11 we have lost 20% of the international tourism market. After 9/11 there were changes that had to be made to our security measures. Now we’ve made those changes we have to look at how we can make this more efficient, but still keeping the security in place,’ she explained.

Klobuchar supported the recommendations of the USTA report which urged the State Department to hire more consular officers and reduce visa interview wait times to 10 days or less. It also proposed expanding the number of countries in the visa waiver programme, which allows citizens of 36 nations to travel for up to 90 days without a visa.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam June 22, 2011 at 1:52 am

Having to fork out so much money and having been rejected twice – though having valid documents showing valid ties to my own country. It's true that like how the other travellers being surveyed – I'm also like them, now choosing Europe o'er the US though the US was my 1st choice for the longest time. It's just too much hassle in going to the US even for a holiday and costing too much for a visa application (RM 534 the first time, and RM 460 the second time).

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Lawrence June 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Another spectacular shoot in the foot moment is the ESTA Fee of $14.
Just another tax! why introduce yet another reason not to go to the USA.
A family of 5 costs $70 extra.
How much would they spend if they went?
The US can whistle for my dollars until this goes away.

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