The U.S. Travel Association
is supporting new legislation that would increase international travel to America and make it easier for medical tourists to enter the country. Introduced by Congressman Joe Heck, the "Welcoming Business Travelers and Tourists to America Act of 2011" will address problems with the U.S. visa system that are currently discouraging international visitors from travelling there.
Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association says, "The travel industry has strongly advocated for visa reform legislation and we look forward to working with other members of the house to gain support for its passage."
A U.S. Travel Association survey of 500 travellers from Brazil, China and India demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of travellers found the U.S. a difficult place to visit. These add to existing problems of the time taken to get through security, and the way that many security and airport staff regard visitors as a nuisance that have to do as they are told, rather than welcome guests bringing badly needed revenue and jobs to the USA. There are many complexities and delays that travellers from other countries experience when applying for a U.S. visa. Among the key highlights of the bill is a 12-day visa processing standard and the implementation of a videoconferencing pilot for visa interviews.
While the State Department currently has a goal of interviewing all visa applicants within 3 days of their application submission, it has failed to meet this performance standard in key markets - a problem that continues to grow as demand rises. Heck's legislation sets a 12-day processing standard and directs the Secretary of State to use nonimmigrant visa fees to hire foreign service consular officers in China, Brazil and India to meet that standard.
Travellers who do not live in a city where a U.S. consulate is located must incur hundreds of dollars in expenses to complete a mandatory face-to-face interview. The lack of accessibility to consular offices is an issue in China, Brazil and India. There are 27 cities in China and eight in India with more than two million inhabitants that do not have a U.S. visa processing centre. The bill directs the Secretary of State to implement a visa videoconferencing pilot program for conducting visa interviews. It can take over 100 days for a Brazilian to get a visa to the USA.
Since 2000, long-haul arrivals to the U.S. have increased by less than 2%, from nearly 26 million to 26.4 million in 2010, despite a worldwide increase of 60 million long-haul travellers over the same decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the United States' share of global long-haul travel fell from 17 % to just 12.4 %.
A Chinese citizen seeking to enter the United States must first get a visa, a very difficult, expensive and cumbersome process. First, an applicant pays a $140 application fee and buys a pre-paid phone card he or she must use to schedule a visa appointment. The next step is to complete a lengthy online application in English. After waiting anywhere from 2 to 100 days, the applicant must travel to a U.S. consulate with complete financial, family and business records only to wait in line for two to three hours for an interview with a U.S. official that lasts three to five minutes. After the interview he or she will be informed about the visa. If the visa is granted, the applicant can then travel to the United States.It is a wonder any Chinese go to the United States at all. The process is similarly restrictive for Brazilians and Indians.
With agencies and associations beginning to proactively promote medical tourism to the USA, few have overcome the main barrier to potential medical tourists - getting a visa in a simple and timely manner.