A proposal by the U.S. Travel Association to reform the visa entry process could attract 98 million more international visitors, create 1.3 million jobs, and add $859 billion to the economy by 2020. If passed, the reforms would certainly make it easier for U.S.-based associations to attract foreign members to their U.S.-based meetings.
"As a nation, we're putting up a ‘keep out' sign," said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association. "The United States imposes unnecessary barriers on international visitors, and that inhibits our economic growth. If we institute a smarter visa policy, we can create 1.3 million U.S. jobs." By failing to keep pace with the growth of international travel between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. lost an estimated 78 million visitors and $606 billion in visitor spending, according to U.S. Travel.
In a report called Ready for Takeoff, U.S. Travel makes four recommendations to improve the visa process and increase visitation.
1. Align visa resources with market demands. This calls for opening additional visa offices in areas of high demand, like China, Brazil, and India. U.S. Travel also recommends using videoconferencing for visa interviews.
2. Reduce visa interview wait times to 10 days or less. In Brazil, for example, wait times can be up to 145 days. In China, it can be up to 120 days. This hurts travel as well as meetings attendance. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events said the slow process precluded 116,000 international visitors from attending U.S. meetings in 2010. U.S. Travel recommends hiring more staff and developing easy renewal processes where possible.
3. Improve visa planning, measurement, and transparency. Measure performance relating to visa wait times and processing speeds to guide decision-making and resource allocation.
4. Expand visa waiver program. Consider adding nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Poland, and Taiwan into the program.
Also, U.S. Travel will reactivate the DiscoverAmerica.com Web site, which originally launched in 2008. The partnership is made up of a diverse group of stakeholders, including the American Hotel and Lodging Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with U.S. Travel serving as chair. The organizations within the Discover America Partnership will work to lobby the visa recommendations to Washington, D.C., lawmakers.