Visa Delay letter for the Record
September 9, 2004
The Honorable Tom Davis
Committee on Government Reform
United States House of Representatives
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Davis:
On behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I would like to thank you for holding a hearing this week on "Creating Secure Borders and Open Doors: A Review of DHS-State Collaboration on U.S. Visa Policy." I would like to offer the Chamber's views on the issues relevant to finding the key to secure and free travel, and request that this letter be included in the hearing record.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business federation, representing more than 3 million businesses. The Chamber's federation includes state and local chambers throughout the United States and also includes 98 American Chambers of Commerce (AMCHAMs) in 86 countries abroad, which represent American companies and individuals doing business overseas as well as foreign companies with significant business interests in the United States. Because of their role at the crossroads of international business, we believe the AMCHAMs are excellent barometers of the strength of our international relationships.
Chamber members with interest in the secure and efficient movement of legitimate travel and trade at our borders include companies and organizations in the travel and tourism industries, companies that import or export goods and services through our ports of entry, companies that do business with international customers and clients, and companies that employ an international workforce. Chamber members on both the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders, including local chambers of commerce and AMCHAMs that conduct business between the U.S. and other countries, also have a great interest in the implementation and efficiency of our border security.
The Chamber has been actively working with Congress and the Departments of State and Homeland Security since 2001 on improving the security and efficiency of our visa system, including testifying twice before this Committee on issues relating to border security and visa issuance. We believe that the oversight exercised by this Committee and other members of Congress has brought about some improvement in the system. For example, for the first time, the Department of State has posted to its Web site the current wait and processing times for temporary visas at all of the visa-issuing posts around the world, so that the public can have advance notice of how long it might take to obtain a U.S. visa. However, our brief review of the waiting times indicated that many posts have waits for interviews of over 20 days, and some have waits over 100 days! Obviously, we would hope that these times could be reduced to no more than a few days for all visa posts.
In May of this year, the Chamber's president and CEO, Tom Donohue, wrote to both Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge expressing the Chamber's concerns over the current state of the visa processing system. The Chamber has also testified on current problems before three separate committees of the House of Representatives and it is worth noting that the committee report of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations legislation specifically expresses its concern over the "negative impact to the U.S. of increasing delays and related problems in the processing of visas," and encourages the Department of Homeland Security to work with interested parties and continue its review of the current system. On June 15, Secretary Powell responded to Mr. Donohue's letter and welcomed the "input and observations" of the Chamber of Commerce, and wrote that the State Department welcomed the opportunity for further consultation.
In August of this year, the Chamber also submitted specific recommendations to both Assistant Secretary Maura Harty of the State Department and Assistant Secretary C. Stewart Verdery of the Department of Homeland Security suggesting a variety of improvements in the visa processing system. That list of recommendations is attached to this letter for your reference.
We believe that one of the best ways to improve any process is through ongoing interactive dialogue with invested stakeholders. To that end, we would like to highlight the Chamber's suggestion, first articulated in an earlier hearing of this Committee, for the creation of a formal working group or advisory body to both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security on the visa process. Such a group should include organizations that can bring broad views to the table and pull from disparate interests. A formalized, ongoing dialogue could not only develop shared viable solutions to some of the difficulties of balancing security with openness in the visa process, but also develop relationships to better communicate changes with current and prospective travelers to the United States.
We look forward to continuing our work with this Committee, and with the Departments of State and Homeland Security in improving the process of visa issuance to ensure a secure and efficient system that continues to welcome legitimate travelers to our shores.
Randel K. Johnson
Vice President, Labor, Immigration and Employee Benefits
U.S. Chamber of Commerce