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Publish Date: 
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
National Retail Federation

It’s been nearly two years since NRF helped convince the State Department to speed up the processing of travel visas so increasingly affluent tourists from rapidly growing economies like China, India and Brazil could more easily come to the United States and shop in U.S. stores. The effort has paid off big-time, with the average foreign visitor spending an estimated $4,000 on each trip and the millions of visitors adding up to billions of dollars. The impact is seen at this time of year more than any other as U.S. vacation spots — and the stores that surround them — are filled with visitors from around the world.

But that doesn’t mean U.S. retailers’ efforts to attract international shoppers are over.

This summer, NRF is joining with the travel industry to launch a new campaign promoting passage of the JOLT Act, legislation in Congress that would make it easier for an even broader array of shoppers from around the globe to enjoy the experience only U.S. stores can provide.

The time it takes to get a visa — once an atrocious four months or more in some countries — has been reduced to about a week in key locations thanks to our earlier efforts. But the JOLT Act would make “expeditious” processing of applications a matter of law, guaranteeing that the resources needed to maintain quick visa turnarounds don’t get cut in the ever-changing world of budget priorities. It would also allow for the expansion of the current list of 38 countries whose citizens aren’t required to obtain a visa to travel to the United States.

Why is this important?

International visitors spend lavishly and are among the biggest contributors to retail success in this country. Without these steps, U.S. retailers’ share of tourist spending could slip. We need to increase and solidify America’s stake in the global travel market.

Retailers aren’t relying only on the government to accommodate foreign tourists. Many retailers, especially those in major destination cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami, have added an array of multilingual staff and provide travel information in multiple languages on their websites. Others have adopted technology that makes visitors feel welcome, like UnionPay terminals that accept Chinese credit cards.

While world travel has grown by more than 90 million individuals over the past decade, long waits for U.S. visas have sent some travelers — and their shopping dollars — to places like London and Paris instead. Carefully balancing faster processing of visa applications with diligent protection of national security could create an estimated 1.4 million American jobs and produce more than $500 billion in economic output by 2020. Adding Brazil, Poland, Israel and Croatia to the list of countries that don’t require a visa to visit the United States could add $10 billion and 60,000 jobs alone.

In addition to tourists who shop, efficient visas are important for retailers who bring foreign employees here for training, and international business people who attend conferences like Retail’s BIG Show.

Retail is a global business and shopping is a global experience. The United States needs to make sure its borders are open to visitors who want to see what our stores have to offer. If we don’t, other countries will.