Editor's Note: Thomas R. Nides is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Nides.
By Thomas R. Nides - Special to CNN
Here’s a simple equation that will help the economy: Bringing more international visitors to America equals new jobs here at home. The United States is the world’s top tourist destination, but our share of that market has dropped since September 11, 2001.
International travelers added $134 billion in exports to our economy in 2010, and we know there is appetite for much more. The Department of Commerce estimates that every 65 additional international visitors to the United States generate enough export revenue to support one new travel and tourism-related job.
The good news is that more and more international tourists want to travel to the United States for holidays, family vacations, and shopping sprees. President Obama and the State Department are making it a lot easier for them to do so.
To come to the United States, tourists from many countries need visas. Often this requires a face-to-face interview with one of our consular officers. Now, the President’s Executive Order will allow our consular officers to waive the interview requirement on a case-by-case basis for many repeat travelers, a group which has already spent billions of dollars in the United States. This will make it easier for many qualified returning visitors to renew their visas, so they can come back and stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, buy American products, and enjoy all that America has to offer again.
And as a result, more than one hundred thousand interview appointments will be freed up this year for new visitors to apply for their first visas.
Improving this process is a critical step forward. Increasing international tourism, particularly from countries with fast-growing economies, creates American jobs. The demand for visas has risen dramatically in recent years. Because of these two factors, Secretary Clinton has made it a priority to increase the State Department’s capacity to issue visas while maintaining our strict security standards. Through common sense actions such as extending interview hours, adding Saturday appointments, hiring additional staff, and opening new facilities, we have reduced visa wait times in countries around the world.
Let’s look specifically at China and Brazil, the second- and sixth-largest economies in the world, respectively. Both have mobile and growing middle classes eager to purchase goods in the United States. Last year, reporters found Brazilians prowling for Black Friday bargains in New York City, buying condos in Miami, outlet shopping in New Jersey, and hitting the slopes in Vermont. More than 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States in 2010, and each of them spent an average of $4,940 while they were here. Those numbers are only rising.
Similarly, the number of visitors from China to the United States has quadrupled since 2003, adding more than $5 billion to our economy in 2010 alone. Overall tourism rates from China are not yet as large as from Brazil, but their individual average spending in the United States is even higher – more than $6,000 per person. With this flood of new tourists ready to inject money into our economy, our challenge is not just to keep up but to stay ahead of the curve.
Since summer 2011, we have reduced wait times for Brazilian applicants from well over 100 days to 40 in Brazil, and from an average of 45 days to 11 in China. Coupled with the rising demand for visas in these countries, these improvements helped us issue almost 176,000 more visas in Brazil and China during the first quarter of 2012 than we did during the same period in 2011. That represents hundreds of millions of new dollars for our economy. Today, in all of our 222 visa-processing posts around the world, 70 percent of our applicants get an appointment in less than three weeks.
Now, more than ever, delivering economic renewal at home is a top priority for our diplomats around the world. Whether it means promoting new markets for U.S. firms or better positioning them to compete for international contracts, through Secretary Clinton’s economic statecraft agenda, we’re ensuring American businesses continue to keep their global edge. Central to that effort is a clear and forceful message to the world America welcomes you, and welcomes the jobs you will bring to the American people.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Thomas R. Nides.