Non-Immigrant Visas (APCAC Position Paper - June 2005)

The Issue

The United States continues to lose market share for worldwide travel as the perception of “Fortress America” continues in many markets. We are encouraged by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff’s recent remarks to the US Chamber of Commerce where he suggested the US business community is an important partner with the government to ”... erect a long-term and sustainable architecture that both maintains and enhances our security but also fosters our freedoms and prosperity.” He made clear his view that we do not want America to be a fortress state. “We want a state that is open and robust and preserves the best of America, while preserving American lives. We want to take a risk-based approach to the decisions we make.”

However, anecdotal evidence continues to illustrate serious concerns about the perception among business people that the State and Homeland Security departments’ decisions on non-immigrant visas (NIVs) are hurting our businesses. The reality is that we are losing business, we are losing tourists and we are losing students to other countries because of the perception that America does not welcome visitors. Even worse during this time of global uncertainly, we are losing friends and influence at a time when America can least afford the loss. Take for example the extreme case of an Asian Airline unable to send a ferry crew to Seattle to pick up a Boeing airliner they had paid for. This current posture toward NIV applications, with commercial applicants being considered together with the general population in the hunt for terrorists, is creating a new competitive disadvantage for American business in the global market place for goods and services. To many observers, it appears the US is treating all applicants equally badly. Everyone is assumed to be a terrorist until they can prove that they are not.

APCAC is fully supportive of the US Government’s objective of “Secure Borders - Open Doors.” Furthermore APCAC recognizes the need for a special approach to national security. We perceive, however, an unfortunate movement to a stance of “Fortress America.” APCAC joins the US Chamber in its concern that obtaining an NIV is a never-ending series of obstacles, unreasonable fees, and is, in many instances, demeaning to applicants who are forced to submit countless documents to junior US Government officials stationed behind bullet-proof glass. The end result is a growing feeling that applying for an NIV to the US is just too much trouble, cost and inconvenience. One of the most bothersome aspects is the perceived total lack of predictability on visa decisions and delays in decisions.


APCAC urges open, transparent visa policies that focus on high-risk categories instead of the current one-size fits all approach currently being employed. A risk-based system whereby citizens from countries sponsoring terrorism, or that our law enforcement officials have indicated present a higher risk, receive closer scrutiny would meet critical national security needs while allowing legitimate commerce to go forward.

*APCAC supports the following steps to help address this situationP

  • The creation of a State, Homeland Security, US Chamber task force to work on a set of procedures that will help identify legitimate commercial and cultural applicants so that low-risk applicants may be quickly processed. Also, where there are unavoidable delays, adequate information should be made available in a timely manner to companies and individuals about case status.
  • Further training and business orientation of well-intended but inexperienced junior State Department officers who process the majority of NIVs.
  • The formation of a Congressional, US Chamber task group to revisit the current immigration law that requires consular officials to make the presumption of an “intention to immigrate” of all NIV applicants. With the new US-Visit Entry/Exit system in place now, nearly all visitors to the US will be closely tracked from entry to exit.
  • Adequate resources allocated to ensure shorter wait times for visa interviews with special consideration for expediting visas for business purposes.


The growing US trade deficit is being exacerbated by the current NIV process. Strengthening and making more efficient the administration of the visa process is critical to national security, however, insufficient resources, administrative problems, and unclear policy currently impede legitimate travel to the U.S. for business and tourism.

May 8, 2005

AmCham Australia - Sydney

The American Chamber of Commerce in Australia (AmCham Australia) is Australia’s largest international Chamber of Commerce and premier international business organisation, with 1,700 corporate members, and offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.