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Public Policy

Efforts to Expedite Visas Succeeding

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NRF’s efforts to convince the government to make it easier for tourists and business travelers from key foreign countries to come to the United States and shop in U.S. stores are paying off.

Until recently it could take 120 days or more for citizens of China, India or Brazil to get a visa. After months of lobbying by NRF and other members of the Discover America Partnership coalition, President Obama signed an executive order in January requiring that visa processing capacity in China and Brazil be increased 40 percent this year and that 80 percent of visa applicants be interviewed within three weeks.

Now, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill that would require the State Department to reduce the wait in all three countries to 15 days immediately, and to 10 days within a year. The department would also be required to establish a program for “premium processing” in three business days for those willing to pay extra.

While the average visitor to the United States spends about $4,000, the average Brazilian spends $5,000 and the average Chinese spends $6,000. A recent U.S. Travel Association study found that speeding up visa processing could create 1.3 million domestic jobs and add $860 billion to the U.S. economy by 2020.

What NRF is doing
NRF has taken a leadership position in the coalition, submitted testimony at a Senate hearing, met with members of Congress and the Obama Administration and raised the visibility of the issue in numerous media interviews. NRF president and CEO Matthew Shaw raised the issue with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing during a visit to China last fall, and again earlier this year at a breakfast with prominent business executives in New York.

What you can do
Retailers should contact members of the Senate to explain the importance of foreign shoppers and urge passage of the Schumer bill. Contacts are particularly important in states that are home to major tourist destinations.