Every year, more than one million Chinese citizens apply for a visa to travel to Europe. It's not exactly an easy process, though, and a recent study by the European Commission showed that over 6 million tourists from countries like China and India have decided not to travel to Europe because of the difficulty of obtaining a visa. Now, in an effort to increase tourism, the European Union is looking seriously into updating visa procedures to entice more tourists—and their money—to cross European borders.
The EU plan is just in the proposal stage and proposes mostly minor changes. But, under the proposed rules, travelers' lives would be a little bit easier. Visitors to Europe’s 22-member-state Schengen Area would have their applications processed at least five days faster than currently; application forms would be available online; and frequent travelers would have the option of applying for a three year visa.
The EU isn't the only country looking to change its rules, though. In India, the process is much further along and the promised changes much broader. There, the idea is to allow people from 180 countries (but not Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka) to apply for a visa to India online, and get a confirmation in five working days. The program is slated to go live within a year.
Both the EU and India are interested in loosening visa restrictions for financial reasons. Tourists bring in money and can help fuel economic growth. So why isn’t the United States doing the same thing?
Getting a tourist visa to enter the United States can be insanely difficult, involving multiple application fees, interviews and long waits. The onerousness of the process severely limits the numbers of tourists coming to the United States.
Writing for Slate, Jon Nathanson argues that we should reexamine tourist visas, especially for China:
The U.S. is well-positioned to compete with France and the Schengen states for its share of the Chinese market. Chinese tourists consider the U.S. their top choice in hypothetical vacation spots, and those who visit spend an average of $4,400 per trip. By all accounts, we could improve the situation dramatically by reforming, digitizing, and normalizing our policies on travel visas.
He points out that the Chinese visitors who do come here spent about $9 billion dollars, which isn’t chump change. But that number could go up dramatically if the visa process were made simpler. Nathanson cites an SMU study that predicts that eliminating travel visas could add between $90 billion and $123 billion dollars to the United States annually.
But even with the economic incentives, security concerns and worries over immigration mean that visa restrictions in the United States are likely here to stay.