Despite that fact that the law is written broadly enough that most foreigners from the developing world could be refused for a visitor’s visa as “intending immigrants,” non-immigrant visa issuance rates are still shockingly high. In 2007, 74 percent of the more than five million foreign nationals who applied for visitor’s visas were approved. This figure is particularly startling when one considers that citizens from the world’s most prosperous countries — including most of Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand — do not need visitor’s visas to enter the United States. Two-thirds of Mexican applicants were issued visitor’s (B1/B2) visas (or border crossing cards), four-fifths of Chinese applicants were issued visas, 88 percent of Russians were granted visas, and more than half of Haitian and Dominican applicants were successful.
Still, More than a decade after the federal government strengthened travel requirements after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, foreign visitors say getting a temporary visa remains a daunting and sometimes insurmountable hurdle.
The tourism industry hopes to change that with a campaign to persuade Congress to overhaul the State Department’s tourist visa application process.
Tourism leaders said the decline in foreign visitors over the past decade is costing American businesses and workers $859 billion in untapped revenue and at least half a million potential jobs at a time when the slowly recovering economy needs both.
While the State Department has beefed up tourist services in recent years, reducing wait times significantly for would-be visitors will likely be a challenge as officials try to balance terrorist threats and illegal immigration with tight budgets that limit hiring.
Nearly 7.6 million nonimmigrant visas were issued in 2001, compared with fewer than 6.5 million in 2010. The number of visa applicants also dropped sharply after 2001. Those combined forces pushed the U.S. share of global travelers down to 12 percent last year, from 17 percent before 2001.
The proposed immigration overhaul has largely been driven by the U.S. Travel Association, the tourism industry’s lobbying giant, and has been endorsed by business titans such as the National Retail Federation, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Republicans and Democrats in Congress are backing the proposed changes through six bills in the House and Senate.
Geoff Freeman, the travel association’s chief operating officer, said the State Department should be required to keep visa interview wait times at a maximum of 10 days.
We agree that there should be a better system in place, that will streamline the process of issuing visitor visas from US Consulates worldwide. Consuls, should apply more reasonable standards when interviewing candidates. If we close our doors and make the process of getting the visa a nightmare, they will find another country to spend their money at, and will not be coming back.