Citing an opportunity to advance our national security, economic competitiveness and public diplomacy, the U.S. Travel Association has urged President Obama to discuss prospects for including Brazil and Chile in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) when he visits South America this month.
The VWP permits business and leisure travelers from 36 participating countries to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a non-immigrant visitor visa. The program facilitates and promotes overseas travel to the U.S. while simultaneously allowing the State Department to shift visa screening resources to higher risk countries.
Adding Brazil and Chile to the VWP would allow visitation from those countries to double, quickly generating $10.3 billion in spending and supporting 95,100 American jobs, according to a letter to the President sent late last week by Roger Dow, U.S. Travel’s president and chief executive officer.
"Brazilian visitors spend on average $5,114 per person in the U.S., the highest spending among the top-10 countries with the most visitations to the U.S," Dow wrote.
"While the U.S. share of Brazilian long-haul travel has improved in recent years, it still remains 14 percent below its share in 2000. Competitors such as Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Italy and Germany have attracted a larger share of this market than the United States in recent years, some seeing up to a 50 percent growth in arrivals."
U.S. arrivals from Chile to the U.S. totaled 127,000 in 2009, down 34% from 2000. During the same timeframe, total outbound long-haul travel from Chile to other countries increased more than 50 percent.
The decline in U.S. market share of outbound travel from Chile has significant economic costs since Chilean travelers spent an average of $4,600 during a U.S. trip in 2009 and directly generated a total of $580 million in U.S. exports, which supported 5,300 U.S. jobs.
"As Brazil and Chile’s economies continue to grow, we hope demand to travel to the U.S. will follow," Dow wrote. "However, knowing that our consulates in Brazil are ill-prepared to meet current demand, we fear that increased demand will make getting a visa to travel the U.S. even more cumbersome, only furthering the disadvantage the U.S. suffers against competing nations that offer visa-free travel to Brazilians and Chileans."
All of South America, the European Union, Russia and New Zealand provide Brazilian and Chilean citizens visa-free privileges for short-term tourism visits. In contrast, the U.S. has not engaged in dialogue with the Brazilian or Chilean government regarding the VWP.
As a result, Brazilians and Chileans often report that it is a significant hassle to travel to the United States due to the cumbersome U.S. visa process. Prospective Brazilian visitors seeking to travel to the United States often wait up to 100 days for a visa interview appointment and pay a significant amount of money to travel, often by a separate flight, to a U.S. consulate for an interview.