More than half a dozen mayors from South and Central Florida have joined a nationwide travel industry campaign to persuade the US State Department to speed up visa interviews for international travelers abroad.
The American Travel Association, a Washington-based trade group, gathered signatures last week from 44 US mayors, including mayors from five South Florida cities and Miami-Dade County.
industry-wide concerns Delays in issuing international travel visas Visitor numbers to the US have increased since the beginning of the year. For Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, it appeared to be the lone black spot in 2022, a record year for state visits. Pandemic level of COVID-19 International travel shows improvement year-on-year.
Mayors whose signatures were sent to Washington on Monday include Dean Trantaris of Fort Lauderdale, Josh Levy of Hollywood and Scott Singer of Boca Raton. Daniela Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County, Ann Gerwig of Wellington, Karen Lithgow of Lantana and Betty Lesh of Lake Worth Beach also signed.
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From central Florida, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also signed on behalf of tourism-sensitive jurisdictions, according to the association.
According to the State Department’s Consular Affairs Office, foreign citizens seeking to enter the United States “generally must first obtain a U.S. travel visa. It can be put in a traveler’s passport. ” Most applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 must be interviewed by a U.S. official at their local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. According to the agency’s website, travelers over the age of 80 and her under the age of 13 do not need an interview.
Trantaris told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the American Travel Association has reached out to individual mayors in cities that rely heavily on tourism.
“They sent us an email asking us to sign this initiative to reduce the pace at which visas are issued to foreign tourists,” he said. “It’s a tremendous influence. South Florida depends on tourism, especially from abroad.”
“It is important that government officials are aware of the situation,” he added. “And second, it’s important to find ways to ensure a better process for foreign tourists to come to our community.”
Annual numbers were not readily available for Broward County’s 2022 international tourist numbers.
Tori Burns, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the American Travel Association, said the group has released a news release on the top 10 things you can do faster than getting a visa.
“One of those things is having a baby,” Burns said. In some cases, “we can have two babies,” she added.
Here are some examples of waiting times for interviews, according to the State Department website:
- Bogota — 872 days
- Lima — 831 days
- Mumbai — 696 days
- Mexico City — 633 days
- Rio de Janeiro — 455 days
- Tel Aviv — 191 days
In its 2022 statewide tourism traffic report released last week, Visit Florida took aim at the Biden administration’s slow pace in processing visa applications.
“Florida welcomed a total of seven million The number of international travelers in 2022 is 73% higher than in 2021, but still below visitation levels in 2019,” the agency said. “The shortage of international travelers, in addition to staggering visa wait times, is directly correlated with the unscientific vaccine mandates still in place by the Biden administration.”
However, Stacey Ritter, President and CEO of Visit Lauderdale, said: Tourism marketing and promotion agency For Broward County, he said the problem goes beyond visa delays. For example, airlines are cutting flights and Russia is still at war with Ukraine.
“We have visas, inflation, fewer international flights and war in Europe,” she said. “There are many reasons, but not just visa issues.”
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The U.S. Travel Agency said the State Department made some progress toward reducing wait times by opening overseas consulates on Saturday, adding more employees to help with processing and waiving interviews for so-called low-risk renewals. I admit that
The State Department said on its website that delays were due to “pent-up demand” for visas after many countries lifted COVID-19 restrictions on travel. The department also cited traditional seasonal demand.
Burns argued, however, that the department could do much better by setting firm goals for processing applications within a certain amount of time.
“In 2019, 43% of international inbound visitors came from countries that required visas,” she said. Many of them were “very popular visitors” who were real estate investors and retail consumers.
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“At the time, we were having a huge positive impact on the trade balance,” she said. “Our company celebrated her 10th consecutive year of growth.”
Then COVID-19 hit and “I saw what the world looked like when movement stopped,” says Barnes. “It had a negative impact on the community, on mental health and on the whole. [range of] something different,”
In the middle of last year, in many countries Skip pre-departure COVID-19 testing For outbound flights.
Similarly, visa wait times for first-time visitor applicants were “very critical in our primary inbound market.”
Burns said the association hopes the State Department will return to Obama-era processing times of “21 days or less” for major markets to the United States, such as Brazil, India and Mexico, by April. The association then hopes to roll out the improvements more globally by September.
The association claims that without improvement this year, the cost of doing business in the United States will include the loss of 2.6 million visitors and $7 billion in tourist spending.
Staff writer David Lyons said, dvlyons@SunSentinel.com