American Airlines CEO Robert Isom is right – the U.S. visitor visa system is embarrassing, and it’s costing our economy. But more than that, it hurts our soft power and importance on the world stage.
During the carrier’s third quarter earnings call on Thursday, Isom chimed in – clearly planning to use the opportunity when the business journalism world was listening – to emphasize the need to fix the problem of hundreds of days-long wait times for visitors to receive a visa to come to the United States.
In 2019, 43% of international visitation into the U.S. came from countries where you had to have a visa to come into the United States. ..[P]eople who wanted to come in for a first-time visa to attend a big event or a convention, you maybe had to go and spend a few weeks to get a visa…now that process of getting a visa can be over a year, well over a year, in really important big travel markets and countries like Brazil, Mexico and India.
When I talk about 43% of inbound travel, of international visitation, it’s not like we’re limiting ourselves just in airfares and ticket prices..those people spent $120 billion when they came into the United States. The country as a whole is harmed.
Indeed, wait times reached over 800 days for those applying in Mumbai and Delhi – and even closer places like Guadalajara, Mexico and Bogota, Colombia.
Current wait times at embassies for a visitor visa to the US:
857 days — Bogota850 days — Abuja848 days — Mumbai833 days — New Delhi800 days — Guadalajara780 days — Chennai771 days — Panama City767 days — Kolkata737 days — Lagos731 days — Kinshasha722 days — Nogales https://t.co/fynriNLJzk
— Alec Stapp (@AlecStapp) September 28, 2022
On average visa wait times were reported last month to be an average of 247 days – a 14x increase over the 17 day average before the pandemic. It’s expected that visa wait times will cost the U.S. 6.6 million visitors in 2023.
This is a huge failure of federal government competence. And for the airline industry it compounds failures of air traffic control (airspace capacity should be increased by making capital investment outside the annual congressional appropriations cycle like Canada does), and of continued Covid requirements for non-residents to enter the country even as the President declares that the pandemic is over.