U.S. Visa Policies Costing Billions
Fareed Zakaria reports that our counterterrorism policies have led to a marked decline in tourism during a tourism boom — and is even keeping out Brits and Japanese.
According to the Commerce Department, the United States is the only major country in the world to which travel has declined in the midst of a global tourism boom. And this is not about Arabs or Muslims. The number of Japanese visiting the United States declined from 5 million in 2000 to 3.6 million last year. The numbers have begun to increase, but by 2010 they’re still projected to be 19 percent below 2000 levels. During this same span (2000—2010), global tourism is expected to grow by 44 percent.
The most striking statistic involves tourists from Great Britain. These are people from America’s closest ally, the overwhelming majority of them white Anglos with names like Smith and Jones. For Brits, the United States these days is Filene’s Basement. The pound is worth $2, a 47 percent increase in six years. And yet, between 2000 and 2006, the number of Britons visiting America declined by 11 percent. In that same period British travel to India went up 102 percent, to New Zealand 106 percent, to Turkey 82 percent and to the Caribbean 31 percent. If you’re wondering why, read the polls or any travelogue on a British Web site. They are filled with horror stories about the inconvenience and indignity of traveling to America.
For many, the trials begin even before they arrive. In a world of expedited travel, getting a visa to enter the United States has become a laborious process. It takes, on average, 69 days in Mumbai, 65 days in Sao Paolo and 44 days in Shanghai simply to process a request. It’s no wonder that quick business trips to America are a thing of the past. Business travel to the United States declined by 10 percent between 2004 and 2005 (the most recent data available), while similar travel to Europe increased by 8 percent. Discover America, a travel-industry-funded organization that tries to boost tourism, estimates that the 17 percent overall decline in tourism since 9/11 has cost America $94 billion in lost tourist spending, 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in tax revenues.
This is unbelievably silly. Because we’re unwilling to admit that all travelers are not equally likely to be jihadist terrorists, we’ve made travel miserable for everyone. Without doing much to actually prevent terrorism.
Zakaria also makes a point that I’ve been making for years:
Except that since 9/11, the alert has never dropped below yellow (which means an “elevated” level of risk from a terrorist attack). At airports, we have been almost permanently at orange—”high risk,” or the second highest level of alertness. Yet the Department of Homeland Security admits that “there continues to be no credible information at this time warning of an imminent threat to the homeland.” The department’s “strategic threat perspective … is that we are in a period of increased risk.” What is this “strategic perspective?” Is it the same as the “gut feeling” that Secretary Michael Chertoff cited when he warned, in July, that we were likely to be attacked during the summer? Or is it a bureaucratic mind-set, the technical term for which is CYA?
That’s a rhetorical question, I presume.
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