An informational video called “Let’s Talk Numbers” released last week by the Department of State (DOS) shows that over 60 million foreign visitors to the U.S. last year generated an estimated total of $134 billion in revenue for the U.S. economy. Visitors to the United States are not only vacationing and seeing national attractions; when they visit, they spend money on businesses like hotels and restaurants, increasing levels of commercial exchange. They help strengthen the U.S. economy, and also provide millions of U.S. workers with employment.
Realizing the importance of expanding the tourist industry, the DOS is in the process of streamlining its tourist visa process to facilitate greater numbers of visitors to the U.S. Over the past five years, the U.S. Government has already increased its visas to foreign nationals. As the DOS video cites, visa numbers are up by 43% in Mexico, 38% in India, 154% in China, and 210% in Brazil.
According to the video, the DOS will continue to add more resources to U.S. Consulate and Embassies abroad to expedite visa processing. By the end of 2012, it intends to add an additional 100 consulate officers to offices in China and Brazil. In response to increased demand for tourist visas, the busiest visa sections in China are now open up to 12 hours. The DOS plans to expand the operating hours for other consulates where tourist visas are also in high demand.
While the DOS video focuses on the economic benefits of providing visas for short-term stays, we should not overlook the economic benefit to the U.S. economy of foreign nationals coming for longer-term stays, such as on professional work visas, including H-1B’s. As an immigration lawyer based in Silicon Valley, I often hear from employers that they just want and need the most qualified and best talent – whether that talent is U.S. workers or foreign nationals. Tapping into the best and the brightest of foreign talent, especially those already here on student visas, provides the U.S. with the special advantage to develop new industries and markets, which ultimately serve to spur greater job creation.