While I've written a lot about residency and work visas in both Brazil and the U.S., one of the simplest types of visas is the one causing rumblings in both Brasília and Washington. Tourist visas are causing bureaucratic hurdles for Brazilians and Americans alike, and costing both countries millions of dollars in potential tourism revenues.
Getting a U.S. tourist visa for Brazilians is expensive, time-consuming, and an even bigger pain if you don't live in one of the four Brazilian cities with a U.S. consulate (Rio, São Paulo, Brasília, and Recife). For families, it can cost thousands of dollars, and for those who have to travel to another Brazilian city, even more for flights and hotels. Consulates are facing increased demand as more and more Brazilians can afford to go abroad, and it can take months to even get an appointment.
Despite the hurdles, more Brazilians than ever are coming to the U.S. According to this blog post from The Hill, the numbers are telling:
In 2011, 820,000 visas were issued in Brazil, an increase of more than 42 percent over the previous year.
In October, more than 90,000 visas were cleared in Brazil, 67 percent more than October of last year, State Department officials said.
Brazilians are spending big bucks in the U.S. They're doing loads of shopping, and spending tons of money at outlet malls. In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion in the U.S., spending an average of $4,236 per person. The majority of money was spent on shopping, restaurants, theme parks, historical sites, and to a lesser extent, city tours and museums. But it's not just in the U.S.: from January to October this year, Brazilians spent $17.7 billion abroad.
There had been some talk about eliminating tourist visas for Brazilians altogether, based on a decreased visa rejection rate, but it looks highly unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. But several interest groups have come down hard on the U.S. government to speed visa processes for Brazilians and Chinese tourists. The National Retail Federation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Travel Association are urging Congress to pass several bills that would speed up visa processing times and increase the number of consular employees.
Interest groups started a campaign called Ready for Takeoff to argue for changed visa rules, proposing solutions like video conferencing for tourist visas interviews and reducing visa interview wait times to 10 days or less. Richard Dow, the president of the U.S. Travel Association, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called "The Lost Decade of Tourism," warning that the U.S. is losing billions of dollars because of visa delays and bureaucracy. He also says the U.S. is losing business to Europe, where Brazilians can go without a visa.
But there are already plans in place to increase the number of tourist visas given in Brazil, whether or not the bills pass. The U.S. will double the number of consular employees in Brazil by next year, and hopes to increase the number of tourist visas given to Brazilians to nearly 2 million in 2013.
Brazil also may reassess its tourist visa policy. Because of a reciprocity rule, Brazil obliges Americans and Canadians to get tourist visas to enter Brazil, as well as visitors from other countries that require Brazilians to get tourist visas. While other issues like high costs, fears of violence, and insufficient infrastracture play a part in hampering tourism, visa requirements do as well. As a result of all of these factors, the Brazilian government is also exploring ways to increase tourism. As El Pais reporter Juan Arias points out in an op-ed called "Brazil's strengths lies in its deficiences," he says:
"Just consider the fact that Brazil with all its beauty, its 8,000 kilometers of virgin beaches, and its huge cultural wealth only receives 4 million tourists a year, when tourism could be one of its greatest sources of revenue."
According to Embratur, 5.16 million foreign tourists visited Brazil last year, a nearly 8 percent increase from 2009. But in theory, it should be much bigger. For example, the same year, 22 million foreign tourists visited Mexico and 4 million visited the Dominican Republic.
In fact, Brazil's Congress is considering a bill that would eliminate tourist visas from January 2013 to December 2016, in an effort to encourage more tourists to visit for the Confederations Cup, the World Cup, and the Olympics. The bill's author, Federal Deputy Carlos Eduardo Cadoca, defended the initiative, arguing reciprocity doesn't make sense and that tourism revenues will benefit the country.
In an ideal world, neither the U.S. nor Brazil would require tourist visas from one another, which would undoubtedly increase tourism and be less of a headache. But for now, any real attempts to reduce bureaucracy, wait times, and costs for travelers will be welcome.