- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Post-September 11, 2001, travel restrictions have cost U.S. exporters more than $30 billion as foreign businessmen face time-consuming obstacles to entering the country and buying American goods or working in their U.S. offices, according to a report released yesterday.

The report, which carried results of a survey conducted on behalf of the Association for Manufacturing and Technology, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S.-China Business Council and other business groups, blamed the direct and indirect costs on inefficient bureaucracy at the State Department, Homeland Security Department and FBI.

A State Department spokesman said the survey did not accurately reflect changes during the past year that allow rapid visa processing and large number of visa approvals for most business travelers.

In all, 734 firms were surveyed on the effect of travel restrictions from July 2002 through March 2004.

The visa delays especially hurt U.S. companies trying to sell products to China, India and Russia, where visa requirements and restrictions on buying technologically advanced products can complicate and lengthen the process for granting visas, the report said.

Business travelers from Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea also faced unexplained delays of weeks or months when applications for business visas were sent to Washington for a security review, the report said.

“This is a global issue,” said Pam Kassner, director of external communications for Rockwell Automation, a Milwaukee firm that makes products to automate production lines, and a member of the U.S.-China Business Council.

“You’re trying to bring employees and customers over to show your products — if you can’t, you can’t compete,” Ms. Kassner said.

The report also cited companies such as Boeing Co., Motorola Inc. and Lucent Technologies experiencing delays when trying to bring customers or employees to the United States.

“When legitimate foreign business executives and vital international customers cannot enter the U.S. to conduct normal business, it is our companies, our workers, our economy and our international relations that pay the price,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

The State Department issues tourist, business, student and other visas at embassies and consulates, but turns to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies for security reviews for some applications.

Stuart Patt, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, said 98 percent of business visas worldwide are issued almost immediately.

“They are talking about an extremely small number of cases,” he said.

The 2 percent of applications that are sent for further review are returned with a decision in less than a month in four out of five cases, he said.

“The thing is, this report goes back two years. The way we are doing things now is very different than the way we were back then. If you were to ask me these questions in 2002, I would have to acknowledge we had long waiting times,” Mr. Patt said.

Mr. Reinsch said the survey indicated that problems were getting worse, not better.

In fiscal 2003, the State Department issued 2.6 million business visas, compared with 2.9 million in 2002 and 4.2 million in 2001, Mr. Patt said. The trend reflects an overall decline in applications, he said.

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