Monday, November 20, 2006

Our Broken U.S. Visa System

The Washington Post
Monday, November 20, 2006; Page A15

Looking for reasons why America's popularity in the world has declined? The U.S. travel industry blames security.

A plurality of international travelers rated the U.S. visa and immigration entry system the "world's worst," according to data released today that was commissioned by a tourism business lobby.

Interviews with 2,011 non-U.S. residents who had traveled beyond their home continents in the past 18 months found that 39 percent rated the United States the least traveler-friendly, more than twice the percentage that gave bottom grades to the Middle East (16 percent), Asia (12 percent) or Africa (12 percent). The rating was based on the ease of obtaining travel documents and the respectfulness of immigration officials.

The questions were somewhat self-serving, and researchers drew more than a fifth of the participants from countries with mixed relations with the United States, such as China and Venezuela.

The findings come as the United States has stepped up requirements for foreign visitors, such as fingerprinting and tightened screening procedures at ports of entry. One-third of the travelers said they would not visit here again because of rude treatment at airports by security officials toward non-U.S. passport holders. Also cited was a fear of detention for simple mistakes or misstatements.

Discover America Partnership paid for the data. The group includes the Travel Industry Association and major lodging, theme park, restaurant and rental car companies, which want the government to promote travel and alter security programs in the name of "public diplomacy."
-- Spencer S. Hsu