In a potential boost to U.S. retailers, Rep. Joe Heck (R., Nev.) has introduced legislation to ease delays in the visa application process for Chinese, Indian and Brazilian citizens seeking to visit.
The legislation calls for increased staff at embassies and consulates in China, India and Brazil to process visas in no more than 12 days. It can take 10 times as long in China, and even longer in Brazil.
The bill also calls for a pilot program to conduct interviews for visas by video conference rather than in person, and to list wait times online. A report on how the State Department is dealing with the demand for applications would be required, and Heck is also seeking to extend the life of visas to Chinese citizens from one to 10 years, as it is for Indians and Brazilians. Costs for the changes would be covered by increasing existing visa application fees, or adding fees.
At a press conference in Las Vegas today, Rep. Heck announced the new bill and said it was submitted to the House of Representatives last week. The bill is expected to be put up for a vote or put in committee very soon, according to an aid from Rep. Heck’s office.
According to the National Retail Federation, Heck’s bill goes “significantly beyond” a State Department funding bill adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. The Senate bill would give the State Department up to 30 days to process applications and would give the department discretion on whether to implement a video conferencing pilot.
“Visitors from these rapidly developing countries are consumers who shop like it’s Black Friday, but because their wait time for a visa has become intolerably long, they’re taking their money elsewhere,” David French, NRF’s senior vice president for government relations, said Monday. “This legislation would bring tourists back to the U.S. to shop, spurring much-needed growth in the U.S. It would put U.S. cities from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to New York on a level playing field with shopping meccas around the world, helping to create jobs here in America.”
French also said the long visa times hurt U.S. retailers seeking to bring staff from overseas to the U.S. for training to work at their overseas stores. The situation also hurts foreign retailers who want to come to New York for trade shows, such as NRF’s annual convention in New York.
NRF is part of Discover America Partnership, a coalition seeking visa and reentry reforms for international travel. The NRF notes that the U.S. Travel Association found that simplifying and speeding up the visa process could create 1.3 million more U.S. jobs and add $859 billion to the U.S. economy by 2020 at little or no cost to taxpayers.