US official says US visitor visas are in high demand

While US tourism leaders are pushing for reduced wait times for processing visitor visa applications for foreign visitors, a US Commerce Department official said last week that the State Department has already made progress in accommodating the record demand for US visitor visas.

Acting director of the US Office of Travel and Tourism Industries for the Commerce Department, Isabel Hill, said while demand has intensified in major emerging economies like Brazil, China, India and Mexico, the number of US visas issued are up by triple- and double-digit percentages since 2005.

According to Hill the US State Department is expecting to review 8.5 million US visa applications in the current fiscal year, 4 percent more than the record 8.1 million in the 2008 fiscal year. She said US visa issuances are up 234 percent in Brazil, 124 percent in China, 51 percent in India and 24 percent in Mexico since the 2005 fiscal year.

The US State Department is on target to process 41 percent more US visas in Brazil and 34 percent more in China this year compared with last year. Notably, the US also opened two new US visa centers in these countries this year.

"We can't just go into a country and set up an embassy and take applications," she said while explaining that part of the solution is in the diplomatic process. Additionally, other issues remain in the negotiation of agreements with foreign governments to enable more visitors to the US.

The US State Department also plans to open a new consulate facility and expand other operations in China, increasing capacity by more than 50 percent. They are also adding 90 new US immigration officers in China and Brazil over a two-year period and will add temporary officers to manage peak summer demand.

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