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Trade group proposes overhaul of U.S. visa approval process

The U.S. Travel Assn.'s plan aims to shorten the wait time and boost foreign visitors. The group's president says 'unnecessary barriers on international visitors' are curbing economic growth.

May 13, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

Concerned that the U.S. is no longer hosting its share of foreign visitors, a trade group for the nation's travel industry unveiled a plan to make it easier for international travelers to visit the country.

The Washington-based U.S. Travel Assn. said Thursday that the number of people traveling internationally worldwide from 2000 to 2010 rose about 60 million. But the group said the number of foreign visitors to the U.S. remained the same over that period.

The association's plan calls on Congress and the Obama administration to overhaul the process to approve visas for foreign visitors, which can now take up to 145 days.

"The United States imposes unnecessary barriers on international visitors, and that inhibits our economic growth," said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Assn.

The trade group said the U.S. could create as many as 1.3 million new jobs and spur $859 billion in economic growth by capturing the country's traditional share — about 17% — of the global travel market by 2020.

The group suggests that the federal government hire hundreds of consular workers and use high-tech advances, such as telecommunications, to speed up the process of approving visas. The association would like to focus those efforts on countries such as Brazil, India and China, where foreign travel is on the rise.

Other proposals include extending consulate office hours to Saturdays and adding a second shift to process visa applications faster. The association also suggests the U.S. allow existing visa holders, including business travelers and students, to renew visas in the United States instead of returning to their home countries.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the agency faces a big challenge to meet the growing demand for visas and is willing to consider ideas to improve the process.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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