Today the White House unveiled new initiatives to promote the United States as a premier destination for international travelers by making our processes for moving people and goods more secure and more efficient. In a manner consistent with our high responsibility to protect America’s borders, the Department of State has taken steps to improve the visa process for all legitimate travelers who wish to visit our great nation. Travel and tourism strengthens the U.S. economy by creating jobs in communities across the United States.
The Department of State has devoted significant resources to increase efficiency and capacity in the visa process, deploying additional personnel, expanding visa sections, and utilizing new systems and technologies to facilitate legitimate travel without compromising national security. These advances allowed the Department of State to issue more than 7.5 million visas in the last fiscal year, a 17% year-on-year increase.
The Department of State adjudicated more than a million visa applications in China and more than 800,000 in Brazil in the last fiscal year. These visas brought visitors and spending to the United States. The President announced goals of increasing visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in the coming year.
Already in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012, we have processed 50% more visas in China and Brazil as compared to the same period in 2011. At the same time, we dramatically decreased the wait for visa interviews in these countries.
The President has asked the Administration to develop a plan to ensure that 80% of visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of requesting an appointment, as security and resource considerations permit. Short wait times around the world will maximize the number of visitors who have an opportunity to visit the United States. Currently, wait times at all five visa processing posts in China are less than ten days. Wait times in Brazil continue to drop, currently down to 15 days in Rio de Janeiro and 20 in Brasilia.
The President has ordered increased efforts to expand membership of qualified countries the Visa Waiver Program. Currently, more than 60% of international visitors do not require a U.S. visa, in most cases because they are from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program. The Department of Homeland Security administers the Visa Waiver Program, which enables eligible citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
Since November 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has added nine countries to the program. Last month, Secretary Clinton sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano nominating Taiwan for inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program, marking a first step in the admission process.
All 36 of the current participating countries share law enforcement and security-related information with the United States and are also required to maintain high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards. As a result, the Visa Waiver Program facilitates international travel for millions of foreign nationals seeking to visit the United States each year, creating substantial economic benefits to the United States without jeopardizing national security.
Today the President also announced that the Departments of State and Homeland Security are working together to improve and speed up the visa process for certain categories of travelers.