U.S. Visa Policies Costing Billions

Airport Delays Photo Passengers on a busy travel day wait on line at Chicago's O'Hare Airport
Scott Olson / Getty 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.

Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Terrorism, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    People who have choices vote with their wallet and their feet. Andrew Sullivan’s blog has some choice anecdotes (more like horror stories) from visitors from such terrorist havens like Finland and New Zealand. When you give low level bureaucrat blanket powers, expect them to abuse them or do stupid things. I’m surprised nobody’s organized a formal boycott of the US yet. But they don’t have to, it’s already happening on an informal basis.

  2. I’m afraid that “CYA” is pretty much the definition of all of our anti-terrorism policies.

    Logic and efficacy be damned.

  3. Hal says:

    Hate to say “told ya so”, but really. This is simply a very predictable result of our actions since 9/11. Blowing up 9/11 into world war II, complete with Hitler and Chamberlain comparisons (that continue to this day), not to mention the very loud and continuous calls for rounding people up into internment camps.

    Sorry, but this is part and parcel of what people asked for – especially guilty of this is Andrew “Fifth Columnist” Sullivan, himself. It’s sad when people finally realize the price of their insanity. It’s really sad when they can’t seem to recognize that their own deliberate actions led to these results.

    Sure, blame the bureaucratic mind-set. But in the end, you’re not doing anything. You haven’t learned all that much and given half a chance, you’ll do all the same things over again.

    Sorry, but no one gets to shift the blame.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Hal,

    Who’s calling for internment camps?

  5. James Joyner says:

    You haven’t learned all that much and given half a chance, you’ll do all the same things over again.

    I’ve opposed virtually all of this from the get-go. Look at my earliest blog posts, from February and March 2003, and you’ll see plenty of ranks against DHS, TSA, and various domestic restrictions in the name of counter-terrorism.

    One can simultaneously think Al Qaeda is a series threat that must be dealt with and desire to take only effective, rational actions to do so.

  6. Hal says:

    Who’s calling for internment camps?

    Guess you haven’t heard of Michelle “round ’em up” Malkin.

    Geebus.

  7. Hal says:

    James,

    Perhaps. And granted, this is just my personal observation colored by my own biases, but when you “oppose” something, you always put so many qualifiers around it as to make it meaningless. This could always be a matter of interpretation, but you’ve “opposed” torture and in the same breath say that you’re going to defer to the administration and perhaps definitions need to be changed, etc, etc. It seems, imho, to make the “opposition” completely meaningless.

    I’m reminded of Revelations 3:16

    So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

    Not that forceful, of course, but that’s the sentiment.

    Granted, it’s just my ultra communist, super socialist, terrorist apologizing, Islamofascist enabling, nanny state liberal POV.

  8. Hal says:

    And this post is a good example of the “lukewarm”. These polices didn’t come about because of bureaucrats pulling them out of their butts. Sure, bureaucrats make it worse, but that’s not the point. bureaucrats always make things inane and annoying. But the problem isn’t that this is a bureaucratic nightmare, it’s the intent and policies behind it.

    What do you choose to point out and poke? The bureaucrats. Which is entertaining and plays to a particular audience, but surely is like homeopathy in that you’re addressing the symptoms and mistaking it for the disease.

  9. James Joyner says:

    What do you choose to point out and poke? The bureaucrats.

    Who’s blaming the bureaucrats in this one?

    I’m pointing the finger at administration-level grand strategy: The “religion of peace” business, unwillingness to take the hit on profiling, and the CYA mentality of the alert levels. None of those policies are being made by clerks but rather cabinet secretaries and the president.

    And, again, I was making those criticisms from the beginning of the blog. (Actually, well before that but without a paper trail.)

    Do I think there are gray areas between torture and legitimate interrogation techniques? Do I recognize the political pressures of the blame game and why CYA is at least understandable? Or that some of the criticisms of the administration are over-the-top? Sure.

    My general approach to analysis of policymaking, which I apply to the other side as well, is to presume that they’re decent people motivated by both different policy preferences but also the constraints of The Game.

  10. Hal says:

    I’m pointing the finger at administration-level grand strategy: The “religion of peace” business, unwillingness to take the hit on profiling, and the CYA mentality of the alert levels. None of those policies are being made by clerks but rather cabinet secretaries and the president.

    Okay, upon hearing this and rereading about 5 times, I’ll withdraw my rant.

  11. Ugh says:

    Of course they’re CYA’ing, remember all the heads that rolled after 9/11?

    Director of Central Intelligence? Fired.
    Head of the NSA? Fired.
    Head of the FBI? Fired.
    Head of the NSC? Fired.
    Secretarty of Defense? Resigned.
    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Fired.
    Secretary of State? Resigned.
    President on whose watch this happened? Forced to testify in front of congress, alone, under-oath and in public about his actions; formulated a comprehensive, intelligent, and effective response; and yet still not re-elected.
    Previous Presidents and Heads of Agencies? Similarly questioned under-oath and in public.

    Oh wait. None of those things happened.

  12. Steve Plunk says:

    Hal,

    So Malkin is the only one making “load and continuous calls”? I hardly see that has anything to do with less travel to the US.

    There is no widespread movement for internment. There is no movement for internment at all. So far there is your example of one opinion.

    The more likely reason for less US travel is a foreign press that is hostile to our country and competition from other venues.

  13. Hal says:

    So Malkin is the only one making “load and continuous calls”?

    Are you looking for more sources?

    In any event, it’s kind of weird that you take one piece of something and make like it’s the linchpin of the statement. To be a bit more pedantic, what I was saying is that the hatred, loathing and outright mistrust of “foreigners” is having exactly the effect we’re seeing and such things are hardly a surprise. Further, all the Euro bashing y’all have been doing for the last 7 years isn’t going unnoticed by them.

    The more likely reason for less US travel is a foreign press that is hostile to our country

    My word. It’s like magic pixie dust for you, ain’t it? “The press” is simply responsible for everything from your POV…

    Oh, and “competition from other venues” has me rolling on the floor. I mean, really. That’s rich.

  14. Hal says:

    I know you won’t even try, but I’d love to hear the evidence which leads you to believe The more likely reason for less US travel is a foreign press that is hostile to our country and competition from other venues.

  15. Steve Plunk says:

    Hal,

    You didn’t give me other examples. In fact after researching Malkin I found even she doesn’t call for internment camps as you claim. She did write a book in support of internment camps during WWII. I disagree with her but I apparently disagree with Roosevelt’s position as well.

    It’s not weird to take the most outrageous statement included in your post and point out it is flawed.

    There is no “hatred, loathing and outright mistrust” of foreigners. That is a common misconception played up everywhere. If anything Americans are neutral and seldom give thought to the subject. If they took offense for the “freedom fries” thing then they are overly sensitive. By the way, they are “French fries” and always have been.

    No it’s not magic pixie dust but a firm understanding of the power of the press to form opinions. Especially bad opinions of a people who have no opportunity to defend themselves from such slander. You mention 7 years of euro bashing, realize if such bashing occurred it was the apparently blameless press transmitting the message. The press is not responsible for everything but they are irresponsible about many things.

    Rather than rolling on the floor over the other venues argument why not counter it with something of substance.

  16. Hal says:

    It’s not weird to take the most outrageous statement included in your post and point out it is flawed.

    Steve, do you even read my responses? I didn’t complain that you were pointing out flaws or whatever. I said it’s kind of weird that you take one piece of something and make like it’s the linchpin of the statement. which is not at all what you claim. I used to think this was just some weird tick of yours, but I’m beginning to think that it’s your primary mode of argument. Bizarre.

    There is no “hatred, loathing and outright mistrust” of foreigners.

    Okay Steve. Whatever you say.

    That is a common misconception played up everywhere.

    I’ve always lived by the saying that if someone doesn’t get the message I intended, it was my fault in communication. I guess you live by the opposite.

    If they took offense for the “freedom fries” thing then they are overly sensitive.

    Yes, I’m sure that’s all there is too it.

    No it’s not magic pixie dust but a firm understanding of the power of the press to form opinions.

    That and a pony will get you a pony.

    Especially bad opinions of a people who have no opportunity to defend themselves from such slander.

    ? My lord, you really do have an enormous victim mentality.

    Rather than rolling on the floor over the other venues argument why not counter it with something of substance.

    How on earth could I come up with anything that compares to your carefully constructed, well documented, logically constructed and well presented arguments?

  17. Grewgills says:

    The more likely reason for less US travel is a foreign press that is hostile to our country and competition from other venues.

    Did you even read the original article or the above post?

  18. NoZe says:

    For the record, Brits, Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders, and most other Europeans don’t need visas to enter the U.S. for tourism, so you can’t lay the blame on the visa processing time in most cases.

  19. Hal says:

    you can’t lay the blame on the visa processing time in most cases

    No, but they do need to be fingerprinted and are generally treated like criminals none the less.

  20. NoZe says:

    >No, but they do need to be fingerprinted and are >generally treated like criminals none the less.

    Perhaps…but that’s a far cry from the “laborious process” mentioned in the article.