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#268363 - 02/19/08 04:36 PM Tourists need not apply
Sir Isaac Newton Offline
Tourists need not apply

A crass, rude and greedy U.S. is missing out on a worldwide travel boom.

By Eric Lucas
February 19, 2008

'You guys are from the States, yes?"

Our interlocutor, speaking in the crisp cadences of the British Caribbean, was a woman in her mid-50s with a food stall along the Rainbow Highway in Belize. "We're from Seattle," I acknowledged. "Have you been?"

She sighed.

"My daughter lives in L.A. I've been trying to go visit her -- I'd love to see Disneyland -- but my visa application has been rejected twice. It costs $100 to apply, and that's about as much as I make here in a week. One has to go to the embassy in person, and that takes up a whole day. I can't afford to try again. They keep your money whether you're accepted or not."

Travel is booming worldwide -- except in the United States. And that woman's experience represents just one reason why.

Overseas arrivals to the U.S. have declined 11% this decade, to 23 million in 2007 from 26 million in 2000. Travel is the world's largest industry, currently worth $5 trillion, and it is growing 6% a year. It employs almost a quarter of a billion people. And yet the U.S. is missing out on this wonderful human commerce.

Californians have a keen understanding of this. Travel spending in the Golden State is about $90 billion a year. With the U.S. dollar as soft as confetti, you'd think droves of overseas visitors would be arriving to spend their pounds, euros and other currencies. Yet foreign arrivals are still down from their peak in 2000 at Los Angeles International Airport, the West's top gateway for international travelers.

Why? American arrogance. The United States is a crass, greedy and rude host.

To start, we treat foreigners as criminals until proved otherwise.

These are the 29 countries whose citizens may visit the U.S. without a visa: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. It's a near lily-white list. The rest of the world's people -- all 5 multicolored billion of them -- are suspect. And overseas, they know the U.S. thinks that.

Canada, by comparison, accepts nonvisa visits from citizens of more than 50 countries. The European Union exempts all EU-member nations, plus another 43 countries, including South Korea, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. So it's easier for a Mexican citizen to visit Europe than the United States.

We're no more helpful once a visitor arrives. I thought about this recently when reading a freeway sign. It said, concisely, "O'Hare next left." I read English, so I was able to get to the airport and fly home. But suppose you speak, oh, Cantonese?

There's an international symbol -- an outline of an airplane -- used on direction signs all over Europe, Asia and in Mexico. Not here. "Costs too much to add signs for all them furaners." That's what a highway official once told me when I asked about fixing this.

Signs aren't the only issue. Tourism Vancouver, which promotes visits to that Canadian city, posts its website in six languages. At Vancouver's Metropolitan Hotel, staff members muster 20 languages among them.

The Los Angeles visitors bureau has four foreign languages on its website -- Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Japanese -- which is a darn sight better than Seattle, my hometown (one, Spanish) and San Francisco (none). Disneyland? Spanish. San Diego? Zip. The U.S. State Department? Zero. Discoveramerica.com, the travel industry's website promoting U.S. travel, appears to offer four foreign languages but, er, um, no content. Check back in March.

For those still determined to visit the U.S., the visa process involves going in person to a U.S. Embassy or consulate for an interview. And as the woman in Belize learned, there are no refunds if your visa application is rejected. Why are people turned away? Scruffiness, unsuitability, past contributions to Greenpeace or general ickiness. Read the State Department guidelines -- visitors must satisfy consular officers that they deserve to enter. But consular officials do not have to explain reasons for rejection, and they don't.

A colleague of mine has a business in Brazil, and one of his investors conceived the idea of taking his family to Walt Disney World. This wealthy businessman, who could buy a whole hotel in the U.S., never mind hotel rooms, flew to Sao Paulo, paid $500 ($100 a person) to apply for a visa, and patiently spent an hour answering questions. Two weeks later he was turned down. The letter suggested that he reapply ($500 more, please!) but, surprise, he took his family to Europe. Brazilians don't need visas to enter the EU.

The nonrefundable U.S. visa application fee recently went up to $131. Luckily for many visitor wannabes, their currencies are climbing while the dollar is shredding. Unluckily for us, we're too busy protecting the homeland from supposedly scurrilous foreigners to let them in. Until we change our official and unofficial attitudes toward the world, 5 billion people will pass us by. We're missing out on a lot more than just money -- but we're missing out on a lot of that too.

Eric Lucas is a Seattle-based travel and business writer whose work appears in Michelin guides, Westways magazine and other publications.
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#268374 - 02/19/08 05:15 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: Sir Isaac Newton]
Amanda Syme Offline
Many Europeans that I speak with come to Belize via Cancun so that they can avoid the US immigration dept. Not because they need visas (since most of them don't) but rather they dislike being treated as if they are guilty before being tried. It takes literally hours to pass through US customs and immigration - even if they are traveling transit (via the US.) There is no longer a transit system in the US airports, so if you pass through the US you must check in and out of the country. I guess the departure fees are probably applicable even though people were simply passing through.

I still travel through the US - I go there to vacation, shop and pass through to get to Europe. But I am lucky and have a visa.

There are many Belizeans that would love the chance to visit the US - not everybody that leaves Belize wants to live in the US - but I guess it must be tough a call.

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#268404 - 02/19/08 08:05 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: Amanda Syme]
pedro2
I used to have a US visa, which said on the face of it that it was for life. When my passport was renewed i had to take the old one as well as it had the visa stamp in it. Then one day an immigration officer simply tore the visa page out of my old passport, without saying a word. I was incredulous at her arrogance and asked her what she thought she was doing - she replied that that visa wasn't valid any more. No further explanation, and I've never been able to get one from them.

So now I travel on a "visa waiver", and have to sign a statement that "I renounce any legal rights I might have in the USA" to be even considered for admission. "Land of the Free", huh?

Since 9/11 it has been positively unpleasant to enter the USA, and I fully endorse the message of the article. I do on occasion have to go there, and once there I find the people generally warm and hospitable. But Americans must accept that what is being done by immigration officers is being done in their name, the American people, and that they are paying their wages. If I were an American I'd be positively embarrassed.

As the article said and Amanda confirmed, the worst part is being treated as a criminal just for being there. That and the time delays. There are indeed no transit arrangements in the USA and even if passing through you have to go through the full immigration process. Once when I had landed in Miami from London and was going to take the next flight to Belize I was asked what my address was in the USA. I replied that I didn't have one, and was told that without declaring an address I wouldn't be admitted. I argued the point to no avail, so I invented an address and wrote it down. Job done!

My record for a delay when I was merely passing through in transit was at Miami where I had landed from Belize and had an onward flight to London 3 hours later. It took 5 hours to clear immigration and a further 1 hour to clear customs, so I missed my flight and all others that day. The airline accepted no responsibility (even though they had drawn up and recommended the schedule) and offered absolutely no assistance in any way. They even said at first that my ticket was not transferable to another flight and I would have to pay again.

Visiting America is fine if you're going to be there for long enough to forget the unpleasantness of getting in, but if it's transit or just a brief visit then it has to one of the most unwelcoming places I've ever visited.

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#268424 - 02/19/08 09:52 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: ]
deadserious Offline
You went and done it Pedro...

The CIA has been watching this forum and your post has been attached to your perminant record, along side the record of every time you were sent to the principal's office.

Next time you enter the great country of the United States of America, you will be presented with your post and asked to answer for such talk hinting of insurrection.
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Now back to your regularly scheduled drivel...

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#268430 - 02/19/08 10:41 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: Sir Isaac Newton]
Mikeywaz Offline
Originally Posted By: Sir Isaac Newton

"It costs $100 to apply, and that's about as much as I make here in a week. One has to go to the embassy in person, and that takes up a whole day. I can't afford to try again. They keep your money whether you're accepted or not."


And we bitch about the departure tax to exit Belize....
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mikeywaz

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#268444 - 02/20/08 12:31 AM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: Mikeywaz]
clover Offline
SIN...let me help you out here....if you want to come to California fly to Guaymas Mexico...bus over to Mexicali.....walk 2 miles east of the border crossing and just walk across the border! No need to thank me!

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#268517 - 02/20/08 05:38 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: clover]
Sir Isaac Newton Offline
I'll pass on the info to my inlaws without US passports (I have mine, comes with being a citizen I guess). My brother-in-law swam across a few years back, his friend had to use an inner tube as he couldn't swim. Viva los lobos!
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#268545 - 02/20/08 08:32 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: Sir Isaac Newton]
catdance62 Offline
My husband is a permenant resident alien of the US but has Canadian citizenship. However, he was born in Morocco (they moved to Canada when he was 7). Right after 9/11 they hassled him SO MUCH everytime we re-entered the US!! When I wasn't with him one time they even DETAINED him! And, not that this makes much difference, but he looks compeltely non--Middle Eastern (or North African for that matter)It's not AS bad now....

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#268555 - 02/20/08 08:58 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: catdance62]
shuffles Offline
About a year and a half ago we had one of the dentists stay with us who came down to do the dental clinics at the schools with Mark and Joan. He was here for about a week...Lebonese passport, but lived in Canada for at least ten years. When he left here he was going to Venezuela to meet his girlfriend's father, which required him to travel from BZE to MIA first. When he arrived in MIA, he was interrogated for over five hours, missed his flight, and was nearly arrested because he was so upset about the whole thing. Once they released him, he finally took the last flight of the day that would get him out of the US and ended up going out of his way by a day and a half. One of the nicest guys you could ever meet and spent a week of his own time here in Belize helping schoolkids and locals get some dental work done. His recounting of the experience in the Miami airport made me ashamed to be a US citizen.
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#268567 - 02/20/08 09:59 PM Re: Tourists need not apply [Re: shuffles]
JZB Offline
I've been held in that room in Miami! (among other airports) Not a fun experience. And that was while I held a greencard.
US Immigration/Homeland security has got to be the worst in the world. They're one of the reasons I never want to live in the States again (would have to go through the whole greencard application again).
Now that I travel to/through as a visitor, I never have a problem.

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