President signs Executive Order designed to facilitate visa processing and promote travel and tourism to the U.S.

January 20, 2012

On January 19, 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order designed to improve visa and foreign visitor processing and travel promotion in order to create jobs and spur economic growth in the United States. See Executive Order. What better place to sign the Executive Order than Disney World, one of America’s greatest tourist attractions!

Among other initiatives, the Executive Order provides as follows with regard to visa processing abroad, particularly in high volume countries:

Sec. 2. Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing. (a) The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism shall, consistent with Presidential Policy Directive 1 or any successor documents and in coordination with the Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, maintain an interagency process for coordinating the implementation of regulatory improvements and the evaluation of legislative proposals to enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.

(b) The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, in consultation with the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the heads of such agencies as appropriate, shall develop an implementation plan, within 60 days of the date of this order, describing actions to be undertaken, including those that build upon efforts underway, to achieve the following:

(i) increase nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent over the coming year;

(ii) ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions;

(iii) increase efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals of Visa Waiver Program participants; and

(iv) expand reciprocal recognition programs for expedited travel, such as the Global Entry program.

This plan should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements, as well as any potential challenges in achieving the stated goals of this subsection.

These actions are designed to increase the capacity for visa processing at U.S. consulates in foreign countries to allow for an increase in foreign visitors to the U.S., recognizing that applicants will still need to establish eligibility for the requested visa classification. Most foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S. for purposes of visiting must first obtain visitor visas in their passports from a U.S. consulate. Canadian citizens and foreign nationals from countries eligible to use the Visa Waiver Program may travel to the U.S. without visas, assuming they are otherwise eligible.

For those foreign nationals who need visas to visit the U.S., visa processing and wait times at U.S. consulates abroad currently vary by country and type of visa sought. For example, current wait times for a nonimmigrant visa interviews at the U.S. consulate in Sao Paulo, Brazil are as follows:

Sao Paulo

Typical Wait Time (Calendar Days*) for a Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Appointment

Visitors Visas: 65 Days

Student/Exchange Visitors Visas: 5 Days

All Other Nonimmigrant Visas*** (Excludes: A, G, K, and V): 65 Days

Typical Wait Time (Workdays**) for a Nonimmigrant Visa To Be Processed****: 10 Days

Visa wait times for each U.S. Consulate abroad may be found at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html. The system is searchable by the city in which the U.S. Consulate is located, so it can be a good test of your geography knowledge. The measures cited in the Executive Order are designed to speed up these visa processing times, and presumably make them more predictable. Using Sao Paulo as an example, if successful, the Executive Order could reduce the wait time by 44 days, from 65 to 21 days.

For prospective foreign visitors, aside from the time it takes to apply, the primary impediment to securing B-1/B-2 visitor visas is often establishing their intent to return to their home country at the conclusion of their visit. While consular officers have essentially unfettered discretion in determining eligibility for a visa, this can be done by showing the interviewing consular officer evidence of compelling ties to the home country, such as family, property, employment, etc. In many countries with a high volume of visa applicants, this is often a difficult proposition, as an interview for a nonimmigrant visa can often last only a few minutes with very few questions from the interviewing officer.

Aside from increasing visa processing capacity, the Executive Order also focuses on trying to capture a greater share of the worldwide tourism market:

(c) The Task Force shall develop a National Travel and Tourism Strategy with recommendations for new policies and initiatives to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States with the goal of increasing the United States market share of worldwide travel, including obtaining a greater share of long-haul travel from Brazil, China, and India. Such recommendations shall include, among other things, strategies to promote visits to the United States public lands, waters, shores, monuments, and other iconic American destinations, thereby expanding job creation in the United States. The Task Force shall also consider recommendations to promote and expand travel and tourism opportunities in rural communities. In addition, the National Travel and Tourism Strategy shall identify any barriers to increasing the United States market share of worldwide travel, and any other related areas of concern. The Task Force shall deliver the National Travel and Tourism Strategy to the President within 90 days of the date of this order.

The Executive Order, and the above excerpt in particular, show the administration’s recognition that travel and tourism are a significant opportunity for economic growth, as we already know well in Maine.

Please contact Matt Raynes at our Bangor, Maine office with questions.

This alert is provided as general information, and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice.


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