Most observers predict visitors from western Europe still will have little trouble entering the U.S., “But when you get into the emerging economies, it gets dicey,” says Steven Hacker, president of the International Association for Exhibition Management in Dallas.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service in recent years has been cracking down on abuses by visa holders who enter the U.S. but fail to return home on time, if ever. Based on their records, the government has targeted countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines, China, India, and certain nations in Africa, Hacker says. Those efforts have taken on added weight since the news that several of the September 11 suicide bombers had overstayed their visas, an embarrassment that the government wants to avoid repeating.
By Invitation Only
Typically, visitors seeking a visa to enter the U.S. need proof of a legitimate reason for being there. “Almost invariably they need some kind of letter of invitation if they are attending a meeting or show,” says Stephen Schuldenfrei, president of Framingham, Mass.-based Exposition Operations Society and an operations expert. Some consulates require an original letter, and often the visa applicant may wait until late in the game to request it, so meeting organizers should be prepared to act quickly.
That doesn't mean anyone who requests it should get a letter. “You really need to know who you are inviting,” Schuldenfrei says. “You need to make sure they're qualified and coming in for a real reason.” And if anyone who requested a letter of invitation for a visa application doesn't arrive for the event, a show manager should consider reporting that individual to the authorities, he adds.
About a quarter of the registrants for the Radiological Society of North America's annual scientific assembly (in Chicago every November) hail from overseas, and the group hires a consultant to help with any problems with overseas attendees. Steve Drew, assistant executive director of the scientific assembly and informatics, didn't notice an inordinate number of attendees seeking the consultant's help for the November 2001 meeting. Several exhibitors reportedly did have trouble entering the U.S., however, he says.
While some exhibitors may have been unable to attend the Radiological Society's annual meeting, their booths and materials made it, thanks to a customs agency that helps them navigate shipping rules.
“From what we have seen, there is more trouble with people than with materials,” observes Douglas Ducate, president and CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research in Chicago. He explains that international trade-fair bonds streamline the shipping of materials for exhibits and help exhibitors skirt inspections at points of entry. So far, he says, getting shipments to the U.S. hasn't posed a problem.
But the shipping process is likely to grow thornier. The Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines are increasing security measures that are likely to affect international cargo shipments, according to Richard McCrady Sr., president of Minneapolis-based CF AirFreight. He expects fewer routes, more elaborate security steps, additional requirements such as X-rays and decompression of packages, and other measures that will increase shipping times.
“Customers will have to provide more detail about their products when shipping freight,” McCrady says. He says the new procedures will likely increase security and insurance surcharges.
International exhibitions with a substantial international component should consider designating staff members or customs experts to help smooth the way for companies.
█ Roger A. Abl-zeid
Consultant on consulate issues
U.S. Department of State Visa Services
█ U.S. Customs Agency