Post-9/11 Visa Delays Hurting U.S. Exports and Jobs

The terrorist attacks of a decade ago left their mark on U.S. trade, travel, and immigration policy, as I contemplated in my modest contribution to the flood of 9/11 retrospectives this week (see “9/11 tested America’s openness to trade and immigration,” posted over at The Daily Caller).

In the wake of the attacks, it was necessary to tighten U.S. visa policy in a way that made it far more difficult for a terrorist to ever enter our country again in the disguise of a tourist or student (as in shutting down the “Visa Express” program for young men from Saudi Arabia).

One unintended consequence of the tightening, however, is that we have also kept away millions of potential visitors who pose no threat whatsoever to the security of our homeland. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, long waits for visas have discouraged potential tourists to the United States from emerging markets such as China, Brazil, and India. As the Journal reports:

The backlog especially has deterred tourists from emerging-market countries with fast-growing pools of people looking to travel overseas, travel executives say. Waiting periods for a Brazilian to get an in-person interview for a visa to enter the U.S., for instance, can exceed four months.

Those delays have imposed a real cost on the American economy. Between 2000 and 2010, according to the story, the number of overseas arrivals to the United States barely budged, from 26 million to 26.4 million. During that same period, global long-haul arrivals grew from 152 million to 213 million—an increase of more than 60 million fueled largely by the growth of the middle class in those emerging economies. But that also means all those new travelers went elsewhere, reducing the U.S. share of long-haul visitors from 17 percent to 12 percent.

That loss of market share means the loss of tens of billions of dollars in tourism service exports, and fewer jobs for Americans in the domestic tourism industry. If President Obama and Congress are serious about promoting economic growth and employment,  they should find a way to make America more hospitable for peaceable foreign tourists who only want to come here to enjoy the best our wonderful country has to offer.