Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2021

Progress Report

Visa Process Improvements
Start to Make Headway

Fast, efficient and secure visa processing is key to the new travel and tourism strategy that the Obama Administration announced six months ago. It’s also of growing concern for meeting groups in the United States, as they seek to ease entry for more global attendees. Here is the progress to date, along with links to resources:

* Shortening wait time for visa interviews to within three weeks of requesting an appointment. The Department of State is on track to meet that goal, with more than 77 percent of applicants at the busiest missions (including Mexico, China, Brazil and India) being seen within that time period, said Kenneth Chavez, public affairs officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Currently, wait times at all five visa processing posts in China are less than 10 days, and down to 15 days in Rio de Janeiro and 20 in Brasilia. (Click here for wait times at consular offices in specific cities around the globe.)

“We’ve seen extraordinary year-over-year growth” in the numbers of visas processed, he added. In Brazil, more than 555,000 visas were issued in the first half of FY 2012 (which began October 2011), up 59 percent from the same period in FY 2011.

* Increasing the number of interview sites. Plans for two new consulates in Brazil (at Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre) have them up and running by end of 2013. In China, a new consulate building in Guangzhou and other expanded facilities will increase interview capacity by more than 50 percent. The Department of State is also looking at reopening a former consular facility in Beijing, which would increase capacity there by 50 percent.

* Adjusting visa processing fees. The Bureau of Consular Affairs is required by law to recover the costs of visa processing. So it has raised the cost of applications for most non-immigrant visas (the B-1 visa is typically requested by meeting attendees) from $140 to $160. (Some other fees were lowered.) The new fees, which took effect the end of April, will support new and expanded overseas facilities and additional staffing to meet increasing visa demand. “Past fee increases did not negatively impact the number of applications we received worldwide,” Chavez noted.

Resource: The Visa Business Center within the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Conferences and events that expect a large number of international visitors can be listed on the U.S. Department of State’s intranet site so that embassies and consulates around the world can be prepared for B-visa requests. Contact:

* Expanding the Visa Pilot Program. This could have considerable impact on meetings, as consular officers can waive in-person interviews for individuals who wish to renew their previous visas within 48 months of their expiration. According to Chavez, the program is up and running in some of the busiest U.S. missions in China, Brazil, India, Russia and Mexico.

* Expanding membership of qualified countries to the Visa Waiver program. The Department of Homeland Security has the responsibility and is currently conducting its review of Taiwan’s nomination. Meanwhile, Brazil is working to satisfy the statutory requirements of the program as it moves toward nomination, Chavez said.

These improvements promise a real return on investment. Visa issues precluded 116,000 international participants from attending U.S. exhibitions, according to a study by Oxford Economics for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. It also concluded that the total gain to the U.S. economy from the increased attendance at exhibitions and tradeshows would be $2.4 billion.

The administration’s new travel and tourism strategy sets a goal of drawing 100 million international visitors by 2021 and encourages more Americans to travel within the United States. Federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Commerce, Interior/Agriculture, Labor, and Homeland Security, are coordinating efforts to increase U.S. travel and tourism exports and in-U.S. travel; reduce barriers to safe and efficient entry and travel; provide a high-quality visitor experience; and collect and analyze data to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

To those ends, Brand USA, established by the 2010 Travel Promotion Act, recently launched its global marketing campaign to attract international visitors with a slogan — “Discover this land, like never before” — and an original song from singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, titled “Land of Dreams,” as centerpiece. Initial advertisements show Cash singing under New York’s Brooklyn Bridge along with musicians from around the world. The first ads are running in the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada for three months, and then aired in Brazil, South Korea, and several other markets. — Maxine Golding

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