Dear Madame Secretary
The State Department that you head is the responsible body for issuing visitor visas to people who wish to travel to our great country as tourists, and so I am writing to you to share the frustration of myself and most other Americans at your persistent and ridiculous unfounded refusals to allow bona fide tourists to visit our country and spend their money here.
This is not a problem that your administration created – it has spanned many years and administrations. But it is a problem that you could personally solve, in as little time as it takes you to pen a guidance note.
In refusing to allow more tourists to our country the State Department is materially harming our nation’s economy, and if they were to adopt a more rational and sensible approach, you would do more to create new jobs at zero cost – true new jobs that would extend on beyond when any initial federal job creation subsidy expires – than our President is promising us at a massive cost of $447 billion.
Our market share of international tourism has declined from 18% to 12% in less than a decade. It is estimated that a more realistic visa issuing policy and simply returning back to our traditional ‘deserved’ market share would create 1.3 million new jobs for Americans, and rather than costing anything, would add $859 billion to our economy.
Further liberalization of our visa issuing policies could boost these numbers massively further.
And rather than a scramble over many months to create ‘shovel ready’ projects, you could achieve this in minutes rather than months, simply by instructing your consular officials to adopt – today – a more positive interpretation of visa applicants’ eligibility for visas. There would be no cost to doing this; only benefits.
By way of vivid example of the current problems with present visa issuing policies, a reader of my newsletter and someone I’ve corresponded with on occasion who lives in China wrote to tell me of her frustration at being refused a US visa. So you can understand her eligibility for a US visitor visa, let me tell you about her.
She is in her mid forties. She is divorced and has an adult daughter, currently studying at university in Oxford, UK.
She has her own successful business, which has been established for some reasonable number of years (ie more than five), and which has all necessary licenses. She earns about 500,000 yuan a year (just over US$80,000). She owns her own apartment (and I think possibly a second apartment too) and her own imported car and has substantial deposits in her bank account (in excess of $50,000). She has no criminal background.
Other ties to China include her support and provision of companionship to her elderly father, and the simple fact that she would have no chance of earning anything like the amount she does if she were to overstay and remain in the US, due to poor English skills and non-transferable employment skills. She has no relatives living in the US. She needs to continue earning at a high level because she is paying for her daughter’s college tuition in Oxford. (The days when simply moving to the US automatically guaranteed a person from China a much better income are long since vanished.)
She has traveled to various other countries regularly in the past, including the UK, and has always complied with the terms of her visas. She was recently granted a tourist visa to travel to Canada (without needing to be interviewed by the Canadian authorities) and decided to add a side trip briefly down to the US in the middle of her Canadian travels.
So she paid the fees, filled out the forms, and flew thousands of miles to be interviewed in your Beijing visa issuing section.
What do you think the outcome of her visa application was? Do you think she was thanked sincerely for her interest in visiting the US and her willingness to spend thousands of dollars on touring, on flights, on hotels, on meals, and on sundry other expenses in the US? Surely she fits into as gilt edged a category of intending visitors as exist – successful affluent tourists who have previously demonstrated compliance with visa requirements in other western countries, with money, income, and good reason to return to China?
Her visa application was refused. She says her application paperwork was scarcely glanced at, her ‘interview’ (which she flew thousands of miles for, requiring overnight stays in Beijing and substantial cost for airfare, taxis, and accommodation) comprised no more than the briefest of cursory exchanges which could have been done by phone if at all, and her refusal was almost immediate and without any clear explanation or recourse for appeal.
Now, please don’t go quoting figures at me about the number of people who are granted visas from China – and all other countries. And don’t go quoting figures at me about how these numbers are steadily increasing.
What I’d like you to consider, instead, is how much greater the number of vistors to the US could be if a more sensible approach was taken to allowing people to visit. This number is an imponderable, and I completely do not believe the official statistics about the number of visa rejections that occur in each country, because unofficial feedback – such as from this woman – consistently seems to indicate vastly higher rejection rates (see for example my recent blog article about how 12 out of a group of 21 MBA graduates/successful business people were recently refused visas to visit the US).
Furthermore, even if the official statistics about visa rejection rates were true, they ignore a much larger obscured reality – the number of people who don’t even try to apply for a US visa, due to what is perceived as a very expensive and very lengthy process with a massively high chance of capricious refusal at the end of the procedure.
I come back to this particular lady’s example. On what conceivable grounds could such an application be rejected?
The State Department is setting the barrier to visa issuance way too high. In so doing, they are harming our country, its economy, and its people. They are not harming refused visitors – these people have 200+ other countries to go visit instead, starting off with the vastly easier process to visit Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, or other English speaking countries, and of course the even more liberal process to visit most other countries.
These countries spend millions of dollars marketing themselves to potential foreign visitors, and do all they can to make their visa receiving experience positive. We spend millions of dollars to maintain a bureaucracy focused on refusing rather than granting visas. These other countries have experienced no problems with a flood of overstaying visitors, and with all respect to our own country, are at least as desirable places for people to choose to relocate to and overstay in as the US.
Our country’s willingness to ‘turn a blind eye’ to illegal aliens from Mexico and elsewhere seems to indicate that even if foreign visitors might overstay, there is no perceived harm to the United States in allowing such actions to occur.
Our international reputation degrades each time another person is refused a visa. People such as this woman – upper middle class people, the opinion leaders of their communities – are not just embarrassed and disappointed by their visa refusal, but are angered by an opaque process that seems to be entirely inappropriate. Direct citizen to citizen level contact between ourselves and foreign visitors is universally considered to be one of the most effective forms of national diplomacy there is, whether it be as part of the federally funded Fulbright Scholarship program run by your own State Department, or any of the many other programs that exist in many forms.
It is one of the best ways of aligning the world with, understanding, and supporting our interests and values. We should be welcoming these people and making their experience positive from their first official contact with our consulates in their home countries, and all the way through to their final departure from our shores. Instead, we’re upsetting and annoying them.
Furthermore, international visitors grow our economy. Domestic taxation and government spending merely seeks to change our economy, but international visitors grow the economy because they bring new cash into our economy rather than merely redirecting and recycling the cash already in our system. Each tourist dollar is worth a great deal more to the nation’s economic health than each domestic dollar, no matter whether it is in the form of a dollar more of taxation/spending, or a dollar less of taxation/spending.
This is not be a partisan ‘tax/spend more vs tax/spend less’ issue. It stands to massively boost our economy, bringing new tax revenues to the government, greater prosperity to currently employed citizens and new jobs for currently unemployed job seekers. Everyone wins. No-one loses.
Don’t tell me that the State Dept is required by law to suspiciously treat every visa applicant as if they are secretly intending to overstay and that the visa officer is therefore required to seek sufficient proof from each would-be visitor of the certainty of their returning home again. Quite apart from the difficulty anyone ever has of proving a negative, this sort of subjective determination can be construed positively or negatively. The visa officer who – almost without looking – decided this woman was a ‘risk’ is being ridiculously too demanding.
The State Dept needs to evaluate its officers not in terms of their visa refusals, but their visa issuances. I know they don’t like any sort of oversight of their visa issuing officers, for fear of undue influence being brought to bear on them, but these people need to be made accountable for their capriciously ridiculous refusals.
Please change your policies. Please allow this nation’s economy to grow, please allow 1.3 million new jobs to be created at no cost, and our international image to limp back to something acceptable. Please start issuing more visas more readily.