Coming to America Is Getting Easier

Streamlined visa processing for foreign visitors may pave the way for increased meeting attendance by international association members.

For international travelers coming to the United States, the process of applying for a visa is getting faster and easier, according to a new travel and tourism progress report released Wednesday by the White House. That’s good news for associations looking to attract international members to U.S. meetings and other events.

The report outlines several programs and initiatives that federal agencies are implementing, in response to a January executive order by President Obama, to reduce visa processing times and enhance traveler experience. These are all efforts to boost the travel and tourism industry, which in 2011 generated $1.4 trillion in economic activity and 7.5 million jobs.

88 percent of visas around the world are now issued in less than three weeks.

The industry estimates that more than a million U.S. jobs could be created over the next 10 years if the country increases its share of the international travel market.

Throughout the world, visas are being issued faster and easier with programs like the newly implemented two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program, which eliminates interviews for qualified nonimmigrant visa applicants.

Other programs include the Visa Waiver Program, which allows for visa-free travel to the United States for eligible citizens of 36 countries who visit for 90 days or less for business or tourism, and the Trusted Traveler Programs, which provide expedited processing into the U.S. for frequent, low-risk travelers.

Because of these initiatives, “88 percent of visas around the world are now issued in less than three weeks,” said Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources.

The improvements are a potential boon for businesses, including associations, looking to build a global market. Expedited visa processing could open the door to higher association meeting attendance, for example.

Elizabeth Kunsey, senior meeting planner at the American Epilepsy Society, estimates that 35 to 38 percent of AES annual meeting attendees are international, and that number is more likely to grow given easier international travel procedures.

“It’s more attendees for us,” Kunsey said of the international travel improvements. “Because if someone has a hard time getting a visa, that means they can’t come.”

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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