Congress may lower Brazilians' visa travel barrier
By Scott Blake
Congressional hearings are expected to begin this fall on proposal legislation that would break down US travel barriers for Brazilians — Greater Miami's single-largest foreign visitor market.
If approved, the number of Brazilians who visit South Florida could nearly double, providing significantly more business for the area's hospitality industry, says William D. Talbert III, president and chief executive of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which has been working on the issue.
"We now see about 550,000 Brazilians spending $1.1 billion a year," Mr. Talbert says. "Brazilian travel professionals tell us that, in one year, those numbers would be 1 million people spending $2 billion a year."
It all hinges on the outcome of House Bill 959, which would change the US government's criteria for qualifying certain nations for visa waiver status. Brazil, which currently does not have US visa waiver status, is expected to be among those nations that would qualify if the bill is approved.
Mr. Talbert said he expects hearings on the bill to begin within 60 days.
Currently, Brazilians wishing to visit the US typically must wait about three months before they can get an interview for a visa travel document. With visa waiver status, Brazilians would avoid that wait.
A number of Florida's congressional representatives have already signed on as cosponsors of the bill.
"We've been meeting with members of the Florida delegation over the summer," Mr. Talbert says, "and we are hopeful that other members of the delegation will become cosponsors."
Another proposal, House Bill 3039, would allow business and leisure travelers from Brazil, China and India to avoid long waits to visit the US, calling for them to have an interview for visas processing no longer than 12 days after applying.
To speed the process, the bill calls for some interviews to be done by remote video conference rather than always requiring face-to-face interviews with US officials.
Bill 3039 has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Talbert says.
Brazilians like to visit Florida, but the delays in getting tourist visas can be discouraging, says Antonio Tozzi, editor of AcheiUSA, a Brazilian newspaper based in Deerfield Beach.
"We are trying to get the American Congress to correct this problem," Mr. Tozzi says.
Sometimes, it can be less expensive for Brazilians to vacation in South Florida than it is for them to travel around their own country, Mr. Tozzi says.
"Brazilian tourists spend a lot of money here," he adds.
Security considerations wouldn't be abandoned under the proposals, Mr. Talbert says, as foreign visitors still would have to submit paperwork, either in writing or via computer, for authorization to enter the US, but that process is less expensive and takes as little as 24 hours to complete.
"They still have to go through the electronic system for travel authorization," Mr. Talbert says.
Currently, the US visa waiver program includes 35 countries, according to the US State Department.
To be eligible for that status, no more than 3% of visa applicants from a given nation can be rejected by the US. Bill 959 would change that criterion to state that no more than 3% of visa recipients from a given nation can overstay their visas, according to Mr. Talbert.
The switch in criteria is expected to qualify nations such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Poland for visa waiver status, Mr. Talbert says.
In 2010, Brazil was Greater Miami's largest foreign visitor market with 555,302 visitors, followed by Argentina with 381,718, according to Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau data.
Easing of US travel restrictions for Brazilians might prompt Brazil to do the same for the US, Mr. Talbert says.
"It could make it easier for Americans to visit Brazil."
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