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Under a new executive order, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security must increase their capacity to process non-immigrant visas in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012. They have also been directed to issue more visa waivers, expand access to trusted-travel programs and ensure that most tourists seeking visas are interviewed within three weeks of their application. The Commerce Department was directed to improve government websites to better assist tourists from key markets.
As has been noted here on Bloomberg View, this is smart policy -- and smart economics. According to the White House, tourists from China and Brazil contributed some $15 billion to the U.S. economy in 2010, supporting thousands of jobs.
A lot of those jobs are in retail. Free-spending Brazilians, for example, splurge more than $5,000 on average when they visit the U.S. Armed with a strong currency and an inexhaustible appetite for shopping, Brazilian consumers are a U.S. retailer's dream. They buy everything from Nike sneakers to Polo shirts to iPods and iPads -- especially now, as most products are about half the price they would pay in Brazil. Chinese tourists are even more eager to buy U.S. goods -- they drop more than $6,000 per trip.
Such spending quickly adds up. Bloomberg News reports that increases in U.S. tourism as a result of the new visa policy could create 1.3 million new jobs -- and add $850 billion to the economy by 2020.
A slowly recovering U.S. economy needs international tourists. Encouraging the developing world's most avid shoppers to visit American malls isn't a bad place to start.
(Mayara Vilas Boas is on the staff of Bloomberg View.)