U.S. Travel Wants Video Conferencing for Visa Interviews

A two-year, secure video conferencing pilot program to improve the visa application process— and open new travel markets for the U.S.— won approval from the U.S. Travel Association. The association hailed inclusion of language in a Senate bill to create the program.

Secure visa interviewing technology could help the U.S. attract millions of new visitors by providing greater access to tourist visas and is a potential boon for the American economy and jobs, U.S. Travel says. Video conferencing may also help open new markets in China and Brazil, for example.

"Overseas visitors are walking stimulus packages, each spending an average of more than $4,000 per visit to the U.S.," said Roger Dow, U.S. Travel's president and CEO. "Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar deserve special recognition in leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's efforts to enhance the visa interview process. In geographically large countries such as India, China and Brazil, a lack of consular offices means that entire tour groups or families must travel hundreds of miles to the nearest U.S. consulate to apply for a visa. Insufficient access to U.S. consulates is one of the reasons we continue to see a lag in visitation to the U.S. from abroad."

Dow noted the U.S. welcomed 2.4 million fewer overseas visitors in 2009 than in 2000, and the failure to simply keep pace with the growth in international long-haul travel since 2000 has cost the U.S. economy an estimated $509 billion in total spending and $32 billion in direct tax receipts, according to U.S. Travel analysis done in conjunction with Oxford Economics.

Brazil, with a total land area greater than the continental U.S., has only four consulates in the entire country. Therefore, a family in Manaus, Brazil, which has nonstop service to the U.S., would have to travel 1,335 miles to the nearest consulate in Brazil to be interviewed for a U.S. visa.

China, with more than 1.3 billion people and an annual GDP increasing by an average of more than 9 percent over the last three years, offers enormous potential for future growth in outbound travel to the U.S. But as of now, only three cities in China have a U.S. consulate that offers visa interviews for tour groups. The cost, planning and effort associated with traveling hundreds of miles to the nearest U.S. consulate deters legitimate travelers from even attempting to apply for a U.S. visa, U.S. Travel said.

In support of President Obama's new National Export Initiative as a means for growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs, the U.S. Travel Association found that if the U.S. can double arrivals from the key emerging countries over the next five years— Brazil, China and India— the U.S. would cumulatively receive an additional $24.2 billion in export revenues that would support 207,600 jobs related to international travel and tourism.


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