Streamlined Visa Process Draws more Tourists to US

Washington, Sep 20 (IANS): Mexico, China and Brazil, along with other countries, are contributing more to the US tourism industry thanks to a streamlined visa process and reduced wait time, the White House said Wednesday.

The White House released a progress report saying the Departments of State and Homeland Security were surpassing the goals set by President Barack Obama in January in terms of visa interview time and visa processing capacity to boost the tourism industry in the country.

The report said 88 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants worldwide are interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications, as against the goal of 80 percent envisioned by Obama, reported Xinhua.

"In key markets such as China, consular officers are keeping interview wait times to an average of five days in 2012 while managing a year-on-year 37 percent increase in visa demand," the report said.

Like Mexico and Brazil, China has passed the 1-million-visa milestone, the report noted.
As of June, the US mission in Brazil has boosted processing capacity by 40 percent as directed by Obama, while the goal will be met in China by December, the State Department said.

The agency said it will open a new consulate building in China's Guangzhou in the 2013 fiscal year and a consular section in Wuhan in the 2014 fiscal year, as part of the ongoing efforts to upgrade and expand its existing consular facilities and build new consulates.

"These investments in infrastructure will increase visa processing capacity in Brazil by 140 percent and in China by 120 percent over 2011 levels," the report said.

In addition, US consular officers have waived in-person interviews for more than 120,000 low-risk visa applicants under a pilot programme in 28 countries.

According to the US Department of Commerce, international travel resulted in $153 billion in US exports in 2011, up 8.1 percent over the previous year, becoming the country's largest service export industry.

"This positive trend has continued throughout 2012 with international tourists spending $13.7 billion in the US in July 2012 alone, up $350 million or 3 percent from the same month the previous year, and travel and tourism-related exports increasing, on average, more than $1.1 billion a month during the first seven months of 2012," the White House said.

As a substantial component of US GDP and employment, the US tourism and travel industry contributed $1.4 trillion in economic activity and 7.5 million jobs in 2011, the White House noted.

The Obama administration is grappling with an anaemic economic growth and a stubbornly high unemployment, the dominant issues in an election year.


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