U.S. to cut red tape for tourists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am


In an effort to boost tourism in the United States and create jobs, President Barack Obama has ordered the streamlining of visa applications for the rapidly swelling ranks of tourists from mainland China and Brazil and the waiving of the requirement of a visa for visitors from Taiwan.

Obama announced the initiatives on Thursday as he visited Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to highlight America's status as a premier travel destination.

'America is open for business,' Obama said. 'We want to welcome you.'

Under the Executive Order signed by Obama, steps to boost US tourism include increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity on the mainland and in Brazil by 40 per cent this year, simplifying and speeding up the process for visa applicants from those places, ensuring that 80 per cent of applicants are interviewed within three weeks and extending its visa waiver programme to Taiwan.

Obama also asked that an inter-agency task force be set up to develop recommendations for expanding international tourism.

According to the White House, the latest measures are expected to create more than one million jobs in the US in the next decade. Statistics released by the US Commerce Department showed that foreign visitors to the US generated US$134 billion in revenue in 2010.

The US has taken note of the potential growth of tourism from emerging economies with growing middle classes, such as Brazil, India and the mainland.

US Commerce Department statistics show that close to 50 million mainland tourists travelled abroad in 2009 and 56.5 million in 2010, but only slightly over 1 per cent of them travelled to the US.

Tao Wenzhao, a researcher at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said yesterday that the US was cutting the red tape because of its economic concerns.

'China is known as a big market for outbound tourism, with over 140 countries being destinations for mainland tourists,' Tao said. The strong buying power of mainland tourists had contributed greatly to tourism in other countries.

Taiwan's foreign ministry hailed the increase in mutual trust between Taipei and Washington that has led to the US plan to include Taiwan in its visa waiver programme.

'It not only contributes to enhancing mutual trust between the two sides but also underlines the high degree of trust that the US has put in President Ma Ying-jeou's administration,' Deputy Foreign Minister Tung Kuo-yu said.

The US notified Taiwan late last month that the island would be included in its visa waiver programme, as a result of which the pro-independence camp in Taiwan accused the US of interfering in the island's presidential election by helping to boost Ma's re-election chances.

Both Taipei and Washington brushed off the allegation, saying it had nothing to do with the election. Ma secured a second term in the voting last weekend.

Foreign ministry officials estimated yesterday that if everything goes smoothly, within six months Taiwan should become the 37th participant in the visa waiver programme.

They said about 400,000 people from Taiwan visit the US each year - 80 to 90 per cent of them for tourism or business.

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou


Number of visitors to the US from Brazil in 2010, according to the US Commerce Department.

-Number from mainland China: 802,000