In his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years in order to stimulate the economy and create new jobs.
Now, it's time to deliver on his promise, according to the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), which released a statement yesterday urging the president to quickly accept a series of five recommendations intended to "repair failures of existing U.S. visa and entry policies that are preventing thousands of international buyers from attending U.S.-based trade events."
The recommendations, given to the president on March 11 by Boeing President and CEO W. James McNerney, chairman of the President's Export Council, argue that the United States should:
• Facilitate visa processing for B visa travel by establishing dedicated business windows at U.S. consulates, setting aside specific times for B visa traveler interviews and encouraging U.S. posts abroad to collaborate with American Chambers of Commerce wherever possible to assist small business owners to secure their U.S. travel documents.
• Streamline the visa interview and issuance processes by increasing the number of consular offices abroad, moving resources to those posts with the highest demand and waiving the interview requirement for low-risk cases.
• Work with Congress to reform U.S. visa and immigration policies to attract highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world.
• Establish a Trusted Employer Program through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to facilitate and streamline travel for employers with strong track records of compliance.
• Form an informal public-private working group to serve as a mechanism to improve transparency and increase communication between the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security and State, other relevant government agencies, and affected U.S. companies and industry groups.
"The United States is not losing the competition, we are forfeiting it," said IAEE President and CEO Steven Hacker, who cited the "alarming and chronic" problems that international business travelers face when they're trying to secure travel documents to attend American trade shows. "We are not even in the game."
IAEE was an early and outspoken supporter of the President's National Export Initiative, which was launched in early 2010 to deliver on the president's five-year exports goals. Visa issues, it says, are the program's No. 1 challenge.
"We can, and we must do better," Hacker concludes.