December 22, 2008
How to lose friends and influence
Posted by: Chris
Unless you've traveled outside the U.S. and Europe, or have friends from places like Latin America, Africa and Asia, you probably didn't know that one of the biggest black eyes on America internationally is this country's arrogant approach to immigration -- on the temporary kind.
As in so many other areas, the Bush administration used the horror of 9/11 and the specter of another terrorist attack to make temporary visas, whether for work, study or tourism, much much more difficult to obtain, even from parts of the world with no significant history of terrorism.
I've been asked more times than I care to count why my partner doesn't just come to the U.S. to visit when I max out my Brazilian tourist visa. Would that it were so easy. For just a taste, check out this story by São Paulo native Jose Guzzardi, who managed to get one of those visas to study at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas:
I personally invited [one of my best friends, considered part of the family] to come to my graduation from UCA. Even though she had work responsibilities, she made arrangements to come and scheduled her visa interview [with the U.S. Consulate]. …
After her interview was over, she called me to tell me that the American consulate in Sao Paulo denied her visa because there was not enough evidence that she would come back to Brazil, even though she had already made flight reservations to return one week after my graduation. The person interviewing her rejected to even look at the flight reservations or any of the other documents that she brought with her, which included a letter of recommendation that I had written for her.
Besides being saddened by not being able to come to my graduation, she was extremely upset with the “arrogance of the American people.” She told me, “I cannot believe how arrogant Americans are… she didn’t even look at my documents before denying my visa.”
Consulate officers in the Bush State Department make it clear to citizens of most any country outside Western Europe that they are presumed liars who intend to overstay their visas and live in the U.S. indefinitely, until proven otherwise. So porous borders result in 11 million illegal immigrants, but those who follow the rules and come prepared with documentation are treated with disrespect and disdain based on little more than their country of origin.
The impact -- besides reinforcing an arrogant tone set from the White House down for the last eight years? The loss of billions in tourist tollars. Guzzardi explains:
The U.S. travel Industry is worth about $713 billion dollars a year and creates 7.5 million jobs across the country. Tourism is one of America’s most important industries, and … a strong tool for public diplomacy and a great way to improve America’s image abroad.
However, the number of foreign tourists coming to the United States has decreased considerably in the past few years. In 1992, 9% of people who crossed international borders came to the United States. In 2000, this number was reduced to 7.5%, and just last year, it went down to 6%. … One of the major reasons for this decrease is the difficulty for foreigners to obtain tourist visas to come to America. …
In Brazil, the visa application process is very complex and time-consuming, taking an average of 100 days for someone to obtain a tourist visa. All Brazilians must be personally interviewed for the visa, and they have to pay a $100 dollar, non-refundable fee for the interview. These interviews last for about three minutes, and the interviewer at the consulate must determine whether the applicant is someone who is “eligible” to come to the United States.
All of this hardship to obtain a visa has directly affected the number of Brazilians visiting the United States. In 1998, 1 million people from Brazil visited America. In 2000, this number was reduced to 750,000 and just last year, it dropped to 500,000. This has a direct effect in the American economy, since Brazilians are big spenders - the average Brazilian spends about $2,000 dollars per trip. This means that the United States just lost $500 million dollars from the Brazilians, who decided to visit Europe instead (the number of Brazilian tourists in Europe increased from 500,000 to two million in the past six years).
Will Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton restore respect to citizens of Latin America, Africa, Asia who follow the immigration rules and apply for temporary visas? Hope But Verify.
P.S. Don't forget to click on the "Change America" badge along the lefthand side of the blog and vote for "Equal Immigration Rights" as a policy priority for the Obama administration. It's still ranked No. 2 among all 121 immigration proposals on Change.org.
(Pictured is "U.S.-Brazilian Pride" painted by the love of a certain blond blogger's life).
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