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And, yes, I DO take it personally: Forn turists...? We don't need yer stinkin' money...!
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Forn turists...? We don't need yer stinkin' money...!

Overseas arrivals to the U.S. have declined 11% this decade, to 23 million in 2007 from 26 million in 2000. Travel is the world's largest industry, currently worth $5 trillion, and it is growing 6% a year. It employs almost a quarter of a billion people. And yet the U.S. is missing out on this wonderful human commerce.

we're not only missing out on the commerce... encounters with folks from other countries are a wonderful way to expand your own horizons...

i find it hugely enjoyable to engage with visitors from other countries in the u.s... i can learn a little bit about their country and their impressions of mine, or even steer them to something worthwhile not mentioned in their guidebooks... yes, i have the great pleasure of living part-time outside of the u.s., a daily opportunity to soak in another culture, but my geographically and culturally-challenged fellow citizens could benefit greatly by rubbing shoulders once in a while with people from other countries... too bad we make it so damn hard...

how so, you may ask...?

American arrogance. The United States is a crass, greedy and rude host.

To start, we treat foreigners as criminals until proved otherwise.

These are the 29 countries whose citizens may visit the U.S. without a visa: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. It's a near lily-white list. The rest of the world's people -- all 5 multicolored billion of them -- are suspect. And overseas, they know the U.S. thinks that.

Canada, by comparison, accepts nonvisa visits from citizens of more than 50 countries. The European Union exempts all EU-member nations, plus another 43 countries, including South Korea, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. So it's easier for a Mexican citizen to visit Europe than the United States.

and getting a visa...?
[T]he visa process involves going in person to a U.S. Embassy or consulate for an interview. And as the woman in Belize learned, there are no refunds if your visa application is rejected. Why are people turned away? Scruffiness, unsuitability, past contributions to Greenpeace or general ickiness. Read the State Department guidelines -- visitors must satisfy consular officers that they deserve to enter. But consular officials do not have to explain reasons for rejection, and they don't.

A colleague of mine has a business in Brazil, and one of his investors conceived the idea of taking his family to Walt Disney World. This wealthy businessman, who could buy a whole hotel in the U.S., never mind hotel rooms, flew to Sao Paulo, paid $500 ($100 a person) to apply for a visa, and patiently spent an hour answering questions. Two weeks later he was turned down. The letter suggested that he reapply ($500 more, please!) but, surprise, he took his family to Europe. Brazilians don't need visas to enter the EU.

The nonrefundable U.S. visa application fee recently went up to $131. Luckily for many visitor wannabes, their currencies are climbing while the dollar is shredding. Unluckily for us, we're too busy protecting the homeland from supposedly scurrilous foreigners to let them in. Until we change our official and unofficial attitudes toward the world, 5 billion people will pass us by.

a year and a half ago, i was verbally assaulted on a street in sofia, bulgaria, by a gentleman (and i use the word loosely) furious over the fact that i, as a u.s. citizen, was able to enter his country and to walk the streets of his capital city without a visa while he was unable to obtain a visa to the united states to visit his daughter... how could i argue...?

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