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“If we extended [Chinese visitors’ visas] to a two-year visa, that’s 200,000 applications we wouldn’t need to process. Those are 200,000 slots that could be freed up.” —David Donahue, U.S. Department of State


time of five days for visa-processing and adding a few hundred visa-processing officers in key emerging countries. Together, the two proposals capture the currentmoodof many


meeting and travel professionals. “This is a key issue in terms of the United States’ ability to stay competitive—nothing short of that,” Franz said.“We’ve always touted the fact that we have the best research, the best minds, and there’s no question that people want to come here and experience that. But if we continue down the path [of] making it difficult get into the United States, we’re sim- ply going to lose this business.”


It’s important to note, saidThomasRamsey, non-immigrant CERTIFICATION MADE POSSIBLE


visa chief at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, that plenty of visas are being processed. Between October 2010 and September 2011, U.S. consular officers adjudicated a record-breaking one million visas in China—an increase of more than 34percent over the last year, and double the number of visas adjudicated five years ago. “Nearly 90 percent of all Chinese nationals who apply for a visa,” Ramsey said, “are issued [one] upon application.” Donahue and Marano also point to the


State Department’s Business Visa Center (BVC) as an example of how the government


The Official Response While industry advocates push for reform, government officials say they’re already addressingmost of their concerns.“We under- stand the key role travel and tourismplay in the national export initiative,” said Helen Marano, director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office ofTravel andTourismIndustries, “and I think we’re in the best position ever to take advantage of the explo- sive growth.” Likewise, David Donahue, deputy assistant secre- tary for visa services at the State Department, said that U.S. embassies and consulates in high-volume countries have extended hours in order to conduct more interviews. And in Brazil and China, a non-career foreign-service hiring programis being piloted to bring in more visa processors.


Meeting professionals can also register upcoming international conferences on a Business Visa Center list that is accessible by U.S. consular offices around the world, which can help verify if applicants have legitimate reasons for travel.


is helping minimize visa issues for international attendees. The BVC provides information to U.S. companies about the visa- application process and can work with both the companies and the consular offices, when needed, to communicate information between U.S. businesses and the embassies and consulates world- wide. Last year, the BVC handled 3,500 requests. Meeting pro- fessionals can also register upcoming international conferences on a BVC list that is accessible by U.S. consular offices around the world, which can help verify if applicants have legitimate reasons for travel. In addition, Donahue said, the State Department is currently


in negotiations to extend Chinese visitors’ visas to multiyear visas. (Current policy precludes the United States fromgranting Chinese visitors a multiyear visa unless China provides the same to U.S. visitors.) “Even if we extended it to a two-year visa, that’s 200,000 applications we wouldn’t need to process,” Donahue said. “Those are 200,000 slots that could be freed up to help us process the first-time travelers.” These efforts are helping create amore visitor-friendly climate,


and shouldn’t go unrecognized, said Joel Secundy, vice president of strategic outreach for Brand USA (formerly the Corporation forTravel Promotion). “There’s been a lot of criticismof the visa program, but we haven’t done a fair job of recognizing all the work that has happened and that is already having an impact on our outlook,” Secundy said. “The market is very positive right now and people want to come here.We just need to make sure we continue doing everything we can to educate them and raise awareness about how they can enter the country properly.”


64 pcma convene January 2012 www.pcma.org


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