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S. 1023 is a bad idea.

Dear Senators Lugar and Bayh,

I am an American living in Weimar, Germany, and as my last residence was in Bloomington, Indiana, I am an Indiana voter.

As an American living in Germany I am acutely aware of how the United States is perceived by non-citizens. Actions by the US Congress that citizens resident in the USA might not notice are often the subject of wide discussion by friends and colleagues here in Germany.

Yesterday multiple friends and colleagues were talking about US Senate Bill S.1023, the Travel Promotion Act of 2009. The key provision of the bill attracting their attention was in Section 5, in which a $10 fee will be charged for each travel authorization, which will be used to establish and fund the Corporation for Travel Promotion. It would “communicate United States entry policies and otherwise promote leisure, business, and scholarly travel to the United States.”

I believe that this fee would substantially hurt the very cause that it is trying to promote.

My friends and colleagues are already reluctant to travel to the United States of America because, rightly or wrongly, they perceive it to be difficult and not worth the hassle.

For my friends and colleagues who do not fall under the Visa Waver Program, the entire process to obtain a visa to visit the United States of America is difficult and challenging, requiring trips to far off consulates, interviews in what they perceive to be hostile settings, and giving a great deal of personal information beyond what they perceive to be reasonable. This is enough to discourage them from even bothering to apply.

For my other friends and colleagues, who fall under the Visa Waver Program, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), is an imposition they’d rather not deal with. It’s not enough to stop my friends and colleagues who are travelling to the United States for work purposes, but several other friends and colleagues have chosen to not visit the United States precisely because of the bureaucracy involved.

The addition of a $10 fee to obtain ESTA is, at its very core, a fee to obtain a visa, and it will discourage even more of my friends and colleagues from visiting the USA.

Although this is not an issue that many Americans are directly worried about, as it is a fee that is only imposed on foreigners, they should be. Anything that makes travel to the US more difficult will only discourage the very people who come and spend money in America’s hotels, restaurants, and stores.

I’m not one to quote the Heritage Foundation too often, but in their review of this bill, they note that last year, 2008, “foreign travelers spent $100 billion in the United States. In fact, foreign tourists often spend three times more than domestic travelers on items like souvenirs, restaurants, and hotels, providing an extraordinary investment in the U.S. economy.”

Additionally, whenever non-US citizens visit the US, it is a critical opportunity to communicate American values and the American ideal—thus promoting America abroad. My friends and colleagues who’ve visited America come back to Germany and tell me how great it was—that America is better than what they imagined it to be. The resulting cultural exchange is good for the United States. These individuals are often the very individuals who would not visit the United States precisely because of the $10 ESTA fee.

I would ask you to vote against S.1023—instead the Senate should be seeking ways to make it easier for tourists to visit the United States. Toward that end, I would like to see the ESTA program ended as well.

TQE | Adam

10 comments to S. 1023 is a bad idea.

  • I agree 120%.

    I hear the same thing here, too, in Norway, that it is too much hassle to go to the US. the US is just shutting itself further and further away from the rest of the world. They tend to think, well, if it doesn’t affect the people on US soil, then it doesn’t matter.

    Not true!

  • That was one reason why I didn’t want to go to Las Veags although my aunt was campaigning mighty hard for it. It’s just not worth the hassle, and I still have “colonial insecurity.” I get nervous around consular employees in general because of the BS those guys in the American Embassy gives us Filipinos. That and the fingerprinting system. What do those guys want my fingerprints and my credit card details for?

  • Kevin

    I am a traveller, and a US citizen. I vote, I read the news, and I take part in my governement to best of my abilities. As a US Service Member, I have served overseas repeatedly, and I agree absolutely with the sentiment in this opinion. The “Travel Promotion Act of 2009 is nothing more than a tax in sheep’s clothing. Too many Americans wear blinders when it comes to the affect on the Global community which our actions have. This is a travesty, and should not be allowed. We, as a nation, and government, have no right to levy unnecessary taxes on anyone, and frankly, I would be shocked if US tourism does not suffer for the implementation of such a fee. Taking more and more money from people to redistribute to other people or entities is not Democracy, or Capitalism. It is Marxist-Leninist, and would make a poor substitute for the formers….. Don’t we already know what comes of a non-utopian experiment in Communism/Socialism? As long as people are imperfect, these “tax ’em til they rebel” policies will never bear fruit ere revolution. What fools to not have studied history, now they must repeat….

    I am also posting this to my blog for posterity.

  • I’ll agree the $10 fee shouldn’t be implemented, but would these same people who view ESTA as a hassle not travel to Australia because of their similar electronic pre-registration entry requirement?

    It’s important to note that if people who qualify under visa waiver fill out the ESTA, they need only do it once and it’s good for multiple visits to the US for two years. So frequent travelers shouldn’t be overly burdened. Do I think visa-waiver people should have to fill this out in the first place? No, because if you’re denied entry because of this, isn’t it a de-facto visa? 😉

    @Cathy: Nice to see you commenting. 🙂 The fingerprinting requirements are similar for Americans traveling to Brazil, and Americans need a visa to travel to Brazil that costs US$100. Like you, many Americans view this as a hassle, so they don’t go. However, these things are implemented by Brazil because the US makes it nearly impossible for Brazilians to visit. The US does have quite a bit of cleaning up to do.

    There was a case where a wealthy Brazilian, with what I would consider adequate proof of funds for his visit, was turned away in Los Angeles because he didn’t have the required visa. The US authorities wouldn’t give it to him prior to leaving, and surely, a wealthy person shouldn’t be a burden on the state once in the US. He was registered to stay at a 5-star hotel, and was wealthy enough he could not only be a guest there, he could purchase the hotel itself if it were for sale.

    He was wrong for traveling without the visa, but he should have been granted the visa in my opinion. Sadly, he was coming to invest a considerable sum of money in the US, and will probably now invest elsewhere. Permanently.

  • karla – There seems to be an isolationist streak in American politics that seems to think that by sticking their head in the sand, the problems of the world will go away. Or maybe they think that being the sole superpower will take care of threats. It’s strange that they want to throw up the barrier.

    Cathy – I’m with you. I think the way US Consulates treat non-US citizens is shameful and embarrassing. It certainly doesn’t help the American cause.

    Kevin – Thanks for the compliments. I’d prefer, though, that you write and send your own letter and then post your own letter on your own blog.

    Cynical Queer – Anything that acts as a barrier to enter a country will drive tourists away. I refused to go to the Ukraine until they started allowing visas at the border/point of entry because I didn’t want to hassle with going up to Berlin, going to the Ukrainian Embassy and standing in line. I would not have gone to Armenia if I’d had to do a visa in Berlin dance. I considered going to one of the ‘stans until I got confused reading the visa application process, and then I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

    I can’t speak to the Australian process—I’m under the vague process that its handled a bit differently from the US ESTA program. That said, the ESTA process, quite frankly, violates the principles of the VWP – The idea behind the VWP is that travel should be easy for citizens of countries that we trust (e.g. the UK, Germany, France, and other select nations). The ESTA process is invasive and a burden–you need to go to the website, you need to fill out the form, and then you need to return to the website to find out if you’ve been authorized. it might only be every two years, but that’s a hassle and a burden–I bet, when the first two year cycle hits, that businessmen from VWP countries will have forgotten about the timing. This spells disaster.

    As for the Brazilian, the airline that let him on the plane made a huge and costly mistake (It cost the airline at least $10,000). Brazil’s not on the VWP and the businessman should have known that. (I might note that I know somebody who was denied boarding for a flight to Brazil because he didn’t have a Brazilian visa. I would not expect Brazil to admit him without one if he were to show up at their port of entry.)

  • @TQE: Oh, I’m with you. For VWP countries, ESTA should be abolished. However, the process to visit Australia is similar. When I was dating J a couple years back, he went to Australia and I watched him enter the information into the computer, and he was able to do it from the comfort of his own home. I think you can do the same with ESTA – it’s not as if you have to go to a consulate or embassy to fill it out.

    That is where my question came in. Are people refusing to go because it is the US, or would they do the same thing with Australia? If they are willing to do this for Australia, then doing it for the US surely isn’t more burdensome. Again, I think it should go away, just sayin’…

    As for Brazil, yes, the airline was stupid. Even though we think certain things are stupid and we should lobby to get them changed, they are as they are, and people who do not do their homework deserve to be rejected if they make it to the port of entry without the appropriate visa/clearances, regardless of the country they are visiting or trying to visit.

    • I just did a quick survey of the Australian visa for US Citizens – it’s more complicated that I thought, and I like this part:

      There is no visa application charge. A service charge of $20 applies.

      What then, if not a visa application charge, is the $20?!

      Honestly, this is an imposition, and I have to confess, the rumors I’ve heard about entering Australia and how its customs process works and the rumors I’ve heard about bringing liquids (even duty free sealed) into the country put me off quite a bit.

      I think that anything that slows down the process for visitors is bad — and to specifically address your concern, when it comes to the handling of private data, I suspect Australia has a far better reputation than the USA. The USA is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being a bad steward of personal information and for demanding too much information. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter–this isn’t an issue about Australia versus the USA, this is an issue about the USA and what’s right for America. This is not right for America and I fear that the EU might decide to impose an equal and measured response… This is good for neither side.

      • If the EU does this, it makes me kind of happy that I have that other passport. 😉 I wouldn’t blame the EU one bit if they did, but as you note, the US is shooting itself in the foot, I’d hope the EU would be smart enough not to do the same thing.

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