NRF welcomes President Obama's plan to boost travel and tourism, says efforts to process visa applications more quickly will help U.S. stores make more sales to tourists, business travelers

WASHINGTON , January 20, 2012 () – The National Retail Federation welcomed President Obama’s expected announcement today of plans to boost travel and tourism, saying efforts to process visa applications more quickly will help U.S. stores make more sales to foreign tourists and business travelers who want to come here to shop.

“In a global economy, importing customers is a key component in the balance of trade,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Speeding up the visa process is one of the quickest ways to boost the U.S. economy. There are millions of citizens of nations with growing economies who want to come to the United States to shop for brands that are known around the world. We shouldn’t let long lines at U.S. embassies and consulates make them decide to take their shopping dollars elsewhere.”

Obama is scheduled to outline his plans during an appearance today at the Disney World amusement park in Orlando. The announcement comes two days after the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness issued a report that included faster processing of visa applications among its wide-ranging recommendations on how to boost job creation.

NRF has spent much of the past year encouraging Congress and the Administration to find ways to reduce visa delays. NRF joined the Discover America Partnership visa reform coalition last spring and rallied retailers’ support for legislation in both the House and Senate. Shay raised the issue with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing during a visit to China in October, and visa reform is a key component of NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign.

Those efforts helped convince Congress to include language requiring the State Department to add additional staff and other resources to reduce the wait time for visa interviews at embassies and consulates in China, India and Brazil in a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law in December. A time limit was not specified, but the language was similar to earlier legislation that set a 30-day limit. Applicants currently wait 120 days or more.

“People who want to visit America and spend money shouldn’t be greeted with a big ‘unwelcome’ mat,” Shay said. “This initiative will go a long way toward showing those tourists that we are indeed open for business.”

NRF has led the retail industry’s fight on the issue because newly affluent citizens from emerging economies like China and India often spend lavishly while in the United States and are highly valued as customers by U.S. retailers. A recent U.S. Travel Association studies found that reducing visa waits to 10 days could create 1.3 million more U.S. jobs and add more than $850 billion to the U.S. economy by 2020.

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign emphasizes the economic importance of retail and encourages policymakers to support a Jobs, Innovation and Consumer Value Agenda aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation.

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