Business leaders urge visa waiver for Brazilians
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Though a state department official wouldn't say whether the agency is considering adding Brazil to its visa waiver program, which allows citizens from 36 nations to travel freely to the US for up to 90 days, the prospect has many Miamians in a tizzy.
"Brazil in terms of expenditures is the No. 1 feeder country for Greater Miami today. In 2009 we had 400,082 Brazilians spent at least one night in Greater Miami [and] interestingly enough even in a tough economy that number was up 5%," said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. "So can you imagine with visa waiver it will be easier to get in and that will facilitate more travel for tourism, meetings and, yes, for business."
Getting Brazil into the program is a top priority for Mr. Talbert and national tourism promotion organizations.
"I'm on the US Travel Association's board of directors and we have brought that issue to their agenda over the last couple of years and it is one of the priorities this year," he said, "and we understand from recent communications that officials from Brazil have stepped forward to meet with US government officials to begin that process."
Similarly Manny Mencia, vice president of international trade development for Enterprise Florida, said adding Brazil would make South Florida even more attractive to businesses from Latin America's strongest economy.
"First of all, I think it would certainly increase access by Brazilian businesses to our products, to Florida and to Miami, and will facilitate investment significantly," he said. "From the trade side also it reduces the need for businesspeople to travel all the way to the American consulates to get the visas to come and participate at something like a trade show."
Brazil in 2009 was the Miami Customs District's top trading partner with just over $11 billion worth of goods sent back and forth.
And were it to be added to the program, it would be the first country from South and Central America.
European countries comprise the majority, joined by others like South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand.
The program also requires any country involved to offer the same freedom of travel to US citizens, which would help open up the market to Miami even further.
At "the national level we're facing a significant increase in competition for the Brazilian market, particularly from China and other countries in the world," Mr. Mencia said. "Increasing access would serve as an incentive to increase business."
But getting on the list isn't easy.
"They have to meet certain requirements dictated by the 9/11 Commission," said Rosemary Macray, a state department spokesperson. "One of the most stringent requirements is that the refusal rate for nonimmigrant visa [from the considered country] be below 3%."
Essentially that means 97% of all visa applications now must be approved to make the waiver list, though the department uses a more complex formula to determine refusal and approval rates.
"They have to have passports that are compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, they have to share information about lost and stolen passports through the US with Interpol," she said. "Any country that begins to come into line with those requirements would be a possible candidate."