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Finally, the US Government Puts on Thinking Cap to Fix Tourist Visa Mess

January 20, 2012 at 2:08 PM | by | ()

We're going to run an idea by you, and see if you agree. The concept seems pretty straightforward to us, but the federal government has been having trouble with it for more than a decade. So maybe we're missing something. Ready? Here's the theory: if you make it harder for tourists to visit the United States, less tourists will visit the United States. What do you think?

We've been complaining about America's "Don't Come Here" approach to tourism for years. Visa restrictions, security regulations, and even new taxes on tourists have combined to decrease the U.S.'s share of the global tourism market from 17% to 11% over the last decade. There were 1.1 million more visas issues in 2001 than there were in 2011, and that happened despite the dollar's plunge against other currencies, which should have boosted tourism.

The tax on tourists is particularly stupid—you have hotel and restaurant lobbies from Las Vegas and Florida to thank for that—but the visa requirements are the real long-term problem. This 2009 Jaunted post gives you an idea of how complicated it is just to get started. The picture above is from a lecture given by US consulate officials on how to navigate the process. We have to give people full-blown classes on this topic.

Now President Obama is kind of addressing the mess. He is dismissing the need for travelers to get visas at all...if you're a tourist in the United States for a vacation...and you're from Taiwan. For everyone else who needs a tourist visa, the President's goal is to get 80% of non-immigration applicants interviewed within...3 weeks.

It's a start.

The President is also adding more personnel to American offices in China and Brazil. Those are two countries with lots of people and not many consuls, and the measure will hopefully reduce wait times. There are rumors that Brazilians actually travel to other countries to get U.S. visas because the consular offices in the country are so overloaded.

Again, baby steps.

[Photo: US Mission Canada]

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