The United States is losing billions of dollars a year and the goodwill of millions of people by unnecessarily strict visa policies that discourage tourists, students and business travelers from coming to the United States.
The problem has become so critical that a broad coalition of American businesses, universities and other interest groups are planning to launch a campaign today for needed visa reform.
The U.S. government was obviously not doing enough before September 11, 2001, to keep dangerous people out of the country, but changes to U.S. visa policy since then have gone far beyond legitimate security needs. Tighter visa rules are keeping out potentially millions of visitors who pose no security threat to the United States.
As an article in this morning’s Financial Times reported:
The National Foreign Trade Council estimated that US businesses lost more than $30bn in the two years before mid-2004 because of the visa restrictions imposed after the 2001 terrorist attacks. That figure is likely to be much larger now.
"American businesses now routinely hold training seminars, conferences and sometimes even board meetings outside of the US," said Bill Reinsch, head of the NFTC. "At the same time you see foreign universities attracting more students by advertising the fact that they don't have a US-style visa regime."
One step toward a more rational U.S. visa policy would be to extend the visa waiver program to such economically developed allies as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, and South Korea. The program allows tourists and business travelers to enter the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. Expanding the program to selected countries would boost tourism and goodwill toward the United States without compromising national security.
I write about the need to expand the program in a new Cato Free Trade Bulletin and talk about it in a new Cato podcast.