In Secure Borders, Open Doors, the Migration Policy Institute MPI “discusses reforms to the entire [visa] system through which foreigners travel to and seek entry into the United States. It investigates changes to the visa issuance process and to the infrastructure that supports that function at the Departments of State and Homeland Security. It then discusses how well the new post-September 11 policies, mechanisms, and procedures advance the stated goals of the visa program: Secure Borders, Open Doors.”
The MPI report finds that “the basic legislative framework” for determining who can be admitted to the USA and “the legal structure of the visa process” have not changed in any meaningful way. For example, after a visa is granted, the holder can still travel to the USA where an inspector provides the final approval or denial of entry. However, administratively the process has “changed substantially.” The visa process has become “much more security conscious.” But at what cost?
On pages 17 and 18, the report states, “In fact, US businesses claim that shifts in visa policy have hurt their ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace.” In addition, “The US travel and tourism industry has also seen the number of foreign visitors for pleasure entering the United States plummet by over 10 million (from 30.5 million to 20.1 million) from 2000 to 2003, representing an estimated $22.5 billion dollars in lost revenues. While many of these industries gained ground in 2004, visa issuances have not returned to pre-September 11 levels.”
In addition to the losses from fewer foreign visitors, there is the impact on the USA’s ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Page 17 of the report also states, “This assertion seems to be supported in a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report that finds a substantial drop in foreign direct investment in the United States from $72 billion in 2002 to $40 billion in 2003. While there is no widely-recognized methodology to estimate the proportion of this drop that may be attributable to US visa policy changes, the National Foreign Trade Council claims that visa delays alone may have cost US exporters $30.7 billion in lost contracts. Firms doing business with the Middle East have been particularly hard hit, losing an estimated $1.5 billion per year in contracts, tuition, and tourism from the region.”
Then there is the effect on student visas – a valuable resource for American business. “It is entirely possible that this new perception of visa policies may be deterring exactly those people that they are intended to deter—“known” potential terrorists. It is even clearer, however, that they also deter many persons from whom the United States has traditionally benefited—top students and scientists, business persons, artists, visitors, and other individuals for whom seeking a US visa is no longer an attractive option. The extent and long-term implications of some of these losses must not be underestimated. Leading universities abroad have benefited so greatly by the lessened interest in studying at US universities that the five largest European Union Member States—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom—agreed on July 5, 2005, in Evian France, to increase “considerably” the number of top students receiving scholarships under the Erasmus Mundus program and open the program to doctoral students.”
We may be administratively ‘pumping up’ our border security, but will the indirect long term costs cited by MPI have a greater impact than the terrorists could have hoped for? They don’t need to bomb the USA again to cause us harm, the new visa policies are doing that for them. (Does your foot hurt? Mine does.)
In a related article, Visa Policy Costing Economy Billions, William Fisher reviews this study and related information.