The Washington Times - September 19, 2012, 10:28AM

The White House issued an election-year progress report Wednesday on the impact of tourism on the U.S. economy, hailing the administration’s efforts to speed up visa applications in countries such as China and Brazil.

The report said consular officials in China have kept pace with a 37 percent increase in visa demand in 2012. It also said U.S. officials are waiving some in-person interviews for certain visa renewals to streamline the process “without sacrificing national security.”

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“Every year, tens of millions of tourists come from all over the world to visit America. That’s good for business, it’s good for the economy, and it’s good for our country,” President Obama said in a statement. “That’s why, back in January, I announced new initiatives to bolster tourism and promote everything America has to offer and make it even easier for tourists to come and visit, without sacrificing our nation’s security. I’m glad we’re making progress and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to strengthen the travel and tourism industry and create an economy that’s built to last.”

In a prolonged weak economy, the timing of the report is in part an effort by the White House to counteract the criticisms of Republican rival Mitt Romney, who argues that Mr. Obama’s economic policies haven’t worked.

Tourism contributed $1.4 trillion in economic activity and 7.5 million jobs in 2011, the administration said, and the industry could create more than 1 million jobs over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of the market. The State Department is expanding its consular facilities, including a new consulate set to open in Guangzhou, China, in fiscal 2013.

The administration is advocating legislation that would expand the visa waiver program; and the Department of Homeland Security is evaluating Taiwan to qualify for visa waivers.