The US Travel Association: “Visa processing delays are hurting economic growth in the United States. This is how the Obama Administration solved the same problem 10 years ago. | Tech US News

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No successful business operator would keep their best customers on hold for a year or more. However, that is what is happening to too many American customers. Millions of tourists and business travelers languish for months waiting for an interview just to apply for a visa to visit the United States and contribute to our economy.

The atrocious wait times for visitor visas to the US. USA they now average more than 400 days for first-time visitors from critical entry countries. Visa processing times for the top three sources of US visitors: Brazil, India and Mexico are now 317, 757 and 601 days, respectively. These excessive visa delays are the equivalent of a travel ban, pushing potential US visitors to choose other countries.

A recent Morning Consult poll found that at least three out of five travelers from Brazil, India and Mexico would say “no thanks, I’ll go somewhere else” if forced to wait more than a year for a US visa.

Discouraging travelers from just those three countries will cost our economy a projected $5 billion in spending next year, according to our analysis.

In total, visa processing delays could prevent about 6.6 million potential travelers from visiting the United States in 2023, a loss of $11.6 billion. And of course, this figure cannot account for the ground ceded in our national efforts to restore ties with other countries and improve public diplomacy.

Giving up on that type of economic activity makes no sense while we are on the brink of recession and the travel industry is still reeling from the devastating impact of the pandemic. Although spending on domestic leisure travel now exceeds 2019 levels, spending by international visitors to the United States in 2021 was still 78% below 2019 in May, and is not expected to recover to previous levels at least until 2025.

It’s not just the big airlines and hotel operators that are bearing the brunt of the loss of travel and tourism. Local restaurants, bed and breakfasts, Main Street retailers and many other businesses rely on visitor spending, not to mention local and state governments that rely on taxes from traveler spending.

To its credit, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of international travel to the American economy. The Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy, released this summer, set a goal of welcoming 90 million international visitors to the United States by 2027. These visitors would generate $279 billion in economic activity each year.

Unfortunately, the State Department, which is responsible for processing visitor visas, is not acting with urgency to meet the administration’s goals and does not recognize the economic consequences. The State Department says delays in visa processing are caused by staffing issues and persistent pandemic issues. Fair enough, but that hasn’t stopped travel companies from finding ways to overcome their labor shortages while meeting growing demand.

And while the State Department has demonstrated the ability to efficiently process other visa classifications, the staggering wait times show that the agency has not prioritized visitor visa interviews.

The good news: solutions are available. The United States faced a similar problem 10 years ago and the Obama State Department solved it. But doing so required clear direction from the White House and rigorous oversight from Congress to make sure the State Department followed through.

To rapidly reduce visitor visa wait times, the Biden administration must make a clear goal and set specific timelines for achieving it: Prioritize the countries that send us the most visitors by reducing interview wait times to 21 days for visitors from Brazil, India and Mexico. in April 2023. And by September 30, 2023, it reinstates President Obama’s executive order that commits to processing 80% of visas worldwide within 21 days.

To meet the 21-day target, increase the new staffing of consular officers in Brazil, India and Mexico and reassign staff with prior consular experience to these markets. Process visa applications seven days a week and test the use of secure remote video interviews to accommodate more applicants. Streamlines simple applications by extending through 2024 the authority to waive interviews for nonimmigrant visa renewals. And set up a dedicated system to provide faster visa processing for large tour groups and people attending conventions and events in the US

Keeping America a top destination for international travel must be a national priority, and that starts with using all the levers of government to welcome our best customers. With a looming recession, the United States cannot afford to turn away billions of dollars in visitor spending.

Improving visa processing can be done safely, as we demonstrated a decade ago. The Obama administration effectively addressed excessive visa wait times then; it’s time for the Biden administration to do the same now.

Geoff Freeman is president and CEO of the US Travel Association.

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