Why the World is Avoiding America

Speaker's Corner: U.S. policies keep many international travelers out of the country. Eric Lucas says he and his fellow Americans are missing out on more than just money.

04.04.08 | 3:00 PM ET

Statue of Liberty“You guys are from the States, yes?”

Our interlocutor, speaking in the crisp cadences of the British Caribbean, was a mid-50s entrepreneur with a food stall along the Rainbow Highway in Belize. Her servings were generous and her smile as gentle as the breeze.

“We’re from Seattle,” I acknowledged. “Have you been?”

She sighed.

“My daughter lives in L.A. I’ve been trying to go visit her—I’d love to see Disneyland—but my visa application has been rejected twice. It costs $100 to apply, you don’t get it back, and that’s about as much as I make here in a week. One has to go to the embassy in person—that takes up a whole day. I can’t afford to try again.”

I thought taking money for an application that is rejected is theft, but, of course, not when the government does it.

However, that may be the best way for us to get revenue from foreign visitors. Humanity is staying away from the United States in droves—overseas arrivals in the U.S. have declined 11 percent this decade, from 26 million in 2000 to 23 million in 2007. This, while travel booms worldwide: It’s the world’s largest industry, worth $5 trillion, growing 6 percent a year, employing almost a quarter-billion people, projected to reach $9 trillion by 2015, when it will be 11 percent of the world’s economy.

With the U.S. dollar becoming confetti, you’d think more overseas visitors would be headed this way to spend their pounds, euros and other currencies. Worldwide, international arrivals grew by 52 million in 2007. Not here.

Why is this? Simple: sheer arrogance. The United States is a crass, greedy and rude host. Our operating principles seem to be:

Foreigners are criminals until proven otherwise.

Here are the 29 countries whose residents may visit the U.S. without a visa: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

It’s a near lily-white list. The rest of the world’s people—all five multicolored billion of them—are suspect.

People know this overseas. Still determined to visit the U.S.? The visa process involves going in person to a U.S. embassy or consulate, where a consular official will “interview” you to ascertain that you aren’t going to overthrow the government.

Canada, by the way, accepts non-visa visits from citizens of more than 50 countries, including such non-white locales as Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. The European Union exempts 43 countries plus all EU-member nations; the total includes South Korea, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. So, it’s easier for a Mexican citizen to visit Europe than the U.S.

Speak English or else.

The sign said, “O’Hare next left.”

I read English, so I was able to get to the airport and fly home. But suppose you speak, oh, Cantonese?

There’s an international symbol—an outline of an airplane. You’ll see it on direction signs all over Europe, Asia, Mexico and other backward places. Not here. “Costs too much to add signs for all them furaners.” That’s what a highway official once told me. The Bush administration has so far spent more than $600 billion on the war in Iraq. That’s $270 million a day. My seat-of-the-pants spreadsheet analysis shows that we could take the one-day Iraq budget and retrofit every applicable highway sign in the country, with money left over to teach language appreciation in public schools.

Up in Canada, my favorite un-American place, Tourism Vancouver posts its Web site in seven languages. And at Vancouver’s Metropolitan Hotel, staff members muster 20 different languages among them.

The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau has four foreign languages on its Web site—Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Japanese—which is a darn sight better than Seattle, my hometown (two, Spanish and Japanese) and San Francisco (none). Disneyland? Spanish. San Diego? Zip. The State Department? Zero. The Travel Industry Association’s new Web site promoting travel to the U.S. has four foreign languages but, um, no content. Guess we deported all our translators because they were speaking in tongues.

Give us your money and go home.

Better yet, stay away.

As with that unfortunate victim of U.S. policy in Belize, you don’t get your money back if you apply for a visa and are rejected. Why are people rejected? Scruffiness, unsuitability, past contributions to Greenpeace or general uncollateralized ickiness. Read the State Department guidelines—visitors must satisfy consular officers that they deserve to enter. But consular officials do not have to explain reasons for rejection, and they don’t.

A colleague of mine has business in Brazil, where one of his investors conceived the idea of taking his family to Disney World. This wealthy businessman, who could buy a hotel in the U.S., never mind hotel rooms, flew to Sao Paulo, paid $500 ($100 per person) to apply for a visa, patiently spent an hour answering questions, flew home and was turned down two weeks later. The letter suggested he reapply ($500 more, please!), but he took his family to Europe instead. Brazilians can enter the EU visa-exempt.

The nonrefundable visa application fee recently went up to $131. Luckily for many visitor wannabes, their currency is climbing while the dollar is shredding. Unluckily for us, we’re too busy protecting the homeland from supposedly scurrilous foreigners to actually let them in. Until we change our official and unofficial attitudes toward the world, five billion people will pass us by. We’re missing out on a lot more than just money—but we’re missing out on a lot of that, too.

Photo by JHogg9144, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Eric Lucas writes for the Los Angeles Times, Michelin Travel Guides and many other publications. He lives in Seattle.

45 Comments for Why the World is Avoiding America

tourima 04.04.08 | 5:32 PM ET

And the US tourism site seems to think that Monterey CA is quite a bit NORTH of Oakland and San Francisco

laura 04.05.08 | 1:09 AM ET

beautiful. just when i think i cant possibly hate american policy any more. Im sure the xenophobic american populous is thrilled about this wonderful stand against these unknown potential “terrorist’s”.

allen 04.05.08 | 12:49 PM ET

Your article is an eye-opener, Eric. One more thing to make me ashamed of my country’s policies. Fortunately, in my travels I sense that people in other countries don’t blame the avarage American for this, but blame our government.

Tim 04.05.08 | 12:57 PM ET

I hate to see this, I really do. It’s so sad.

marta 04.05.08 | 1:04 PM ET

Don’t count me among the american xenophobes.  We, americans, are not all ignorant and paranoid.  Some of us actually speak more than one language and in a few cases, even more.

Stephen Sexton 04.05.08 | 2:32 PM ET

Lilly white?  List time I checked the people of Japan, Singapore and Bermuda were not considered lilly white.  It’s a shame that this author believes that Canada and the United States are the only two nations to compare to each other.  It gives me the impression that someone may be only looking for examples to prove a viewpoint.

Appetiteforchina 04.06.08 | 1:21 AM ET

Note that he said “near lily-white”, not “full7.” But you can’t deny that these visa policies are racist, when all of South America, Central America, Africa, Middle East, and Asia except the 2 richest countries, are excluded.

Very well-written piece. It’s a shame that many (not all, not most) Americans just take the ease of traveling to other countries for granted.

Marian Kastil 04.06.08 | 3:40 AM ET

It’s very unfair that citizens of countries which are supporting the US with troops eg Poland and which welcome USA visitors, get no reciprocity.

Rory Boland 04.06.08 | 4:28 PM ET

Good to see some American press covering this.

The US is one of the world’s great destinations, but has to rank just better than North Korea in the friendliness of its welcome. From the application procedure, whereby the US government robs would-be visitors of $100, to US immigration, who treat arrivals like something they scraped off their shoe, the whole system is discouraging. The Times of London recently carried an article advocating boycotting travel to the US Travel to America? No Thansk, while my own blog published a piece The Death of American Tourism? This is a real hot button issue in Europe. Paticualrly in the UK, Ireland, France and Poland.

Michael Chertoff, Department of Homeland Security, is now trying to implement more controls over European visitors. Chertoff seemingly wants everything from credit card information to the size of our inside leg, just so we can take a few pics of the Empire State Building. Enough is enough. 

It is impractical and childish to look for the EU to implement similar controls on US citizens, but I certainly hope Europeans’ will limit their visits to the US to the absolute minimum.

I like America and Americans, but I absolutely refuse to travel to a country with treats visitors with such disdain.

Matt 04.07.08 | 9:57 AM ET

While I despise the US government’s attitude toward foreign tourists (and foreigners more generally), I do understand the need to have some controls on visas. Regardless of your feelings about immigration in this country, you have to admit there are an awful lot of people who either enter the US illegally or overstay their visas.

The State Department supposedly has a metric for determining when to put countries on the waiver program, based on what percentage of a country’s citizens are looking more to immigrate than to visit Disney World. (Poland, I believe, recently got denied access to the waiver program.) This makes sense, at least in principle, though I’m sure that, due to politics and general incompetence, State and DHS mess it up completely.

At the same time, when it comes to mute visa-approvers and unrefundable visa fees, I don’t think the US is especially bad. Would you really expect Vietnamese consular officials to patiently explain to you why they’ve rejected your application but are keeping your $75? (The question remains, however, whether the US wants to be in the same league as Vietnam.)

Anyway, the anti-foreigner mindset is pervasive throughout the US, and I wouldn’t expect it to change. After all, the whole economy is on the verge of collapse, and pretty much everything else is going to fail as well. With the prospect of riots, mass homelessness and food shortages on the horizon, who’s going to spend several million dollars to translate highway signs into Portuguese?

Blech, now I’m depressed.

Tim Patterson 04.07.08 | 11:42 AM ET

It’s one thing when a wealthy businessman’s visa is rejected - stupid and rude but not tragic. 

But when a Cambodian student works for months to save $100 (3 months income!!!), gets a 10 minute interview at a fortress-like embassy and is summarily sent back to the streets, that’s just plain tragic. 

Why do foreigners even want to visit Disneyland?

Stella 04.07.08 | 12:05 PM ET

It is becoming increasingly apparent that coming to visit and living in the US is not all it is made out to be. We have a huge health care crisis with some 50 million americans with no health insurance, most of them children. We have avaricious pharmaceutical companies making outrageous profits and sick people dieing because they can’t afford to pay for medicaton and/or surgery. We have the average american WITH health insurance who is denied treatment because “it is experimental”.

Our education system is second rate. Our primary and secondary students fail miserably in science and math compared to European and Asian nations.

American corporations are legal humans with all the privileges of citizenship and with out any of the consequences, ie, Enron, MCI, etc.

University level education is extremely expensive, leaving the student in so much debt that it takes a lifetime to pay it all back.  Why can other nations afford to give their young citizens a higher education and the US can’t?

The list goes on and on and on .....

Grizzly Bear Mom 04.07.08 | 1:38 PM ET

I believe the problem is one of ignorance.  Not having other countries 100 miles or so away that we frequenlty visit, like other countries do, Americans lack understanding of other cultures.  Additionally after being attacked in 9/11, it is resonable to be afraid.  I know I was after being robbed and pistol whipped in Italy.  When the U.S. government realizes that its policies negaitvely impact tourism, they will change them.  In the meantime how about we all try to be good will ambassadors of our countries, whichever they may be.

Icespicol 04.07.08 | 2:45 PM ET

Wow, Eric. What a well-crafted and broad sweeping headline! Yet everywhere I look on the streets of Chicago on any given day there are multi-national groups of tourists. Welcome here as far as I am concerned, when they enter this country under our laws.

Tourists having trouble reading signs? I keep my German travel guide in my backpack because, well, my German stinks. Advice: learn some English because…yes, you are visiting America. Either that or fly into Chicago Midway. There are “international symbols” over there - funny Eric, you didn’t see any of these signs by O’Hare? Hmm. I doubt it.

Eric, you did get one thing right. “Foreigners are criminals until proven otherwise.” If you have a better solution, lay it on us. But that’s too big a problem for you to handle in a little internet blurb now isn’t it? Not that you HAVE the answer - ha.

Everyone revisit 9/11/01! Especially Eric. It really did happen in YOUR country by foreigners who had overstayed their visas or were here illegally otherwise.

So sorry for the inconvenience.

Tim Patterson 04.07.08 | 2:55 PM ET

lcespicol -

Could you please explain your point a little more politely and with less sarcasm?  I appreciate your perspective but disagree with it vehemently and I’d welcome a friendly discussion in order to find some common ground.

Icespicol 04.07.08 | 3:41 PM ET

Tim: Sure. All sarcasm for Eric aside. What do you disagree with?
1. There are foreign tourists a-plenty in the U.S. This is a general statement, yes. But no more of a generality than Eric’s headline: “Why the World is Avoiding America.”

2. There ARE international symbols on the highway signage to the airports in Chicago. NOT as Eric writes.

3. It’s generally a good idea to brush up on some language basics (travel phrase book) before traveling to another country.

4. Non-citizens need to be screened before entry (and issued non-immigrant visas - see below #7) so as to avoid further terrorist attacks. It is a necessary inconvenience. I challenge Eric to offer an alternative to this inconvenience.

5. To be correct, the majority of the 9-11 terrorist’s visas were issued erroneously under law. So…

6. One could reason, this is why visas today are issued with more scrutiny because the law on the books was basically overlooked by the consulates issuing (the terrorist’s) visas before 9-11.

7. Here is the law that causes all the travel visa “inconveniences”: 214(b) “Every alien [other than several narrowly exempted subcategories] shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant [visa].”

Tim Patterson 04.07.08 | 3:45 PM ET

Thanks - must run now, but I’ll look forward to continuing the discussion - basically, I think that barriers to positive cross-cultural interaction are extremely dangerous in today’s world.

I agree that the stakes are very high and this is an issue where it’s easy to get emotional and hyperbolic - myself included!

Michael Yessis 04.07.08 | 3:55 PM ET

Quick note regarding the headline: It was written by the editors, not Eric.

vicki 04.07.08 | 4:36 PM ET

While bureaucracy in any country is awful it is the price we pay for wanting to travel into other countries. Meanwhile we do have a right to put guidelines on incoming travelers as any other country does. Just because you can travel Europe like it’s one big country now doesn’t mean that is the best way to run things, just more convenient. Signage, I agree could be more user friendly all the way around and since those signs are updated every now and again adding symbols would be no big deal at international airports, etc. However, English is our language and just as I should learn the language of any country I visit so should travelers coming here. Besides, English is becoming a worldwide language being mandatory in schools in other countries as a second language. America will never be like Europe and we shouldn’t expect it to be. We are all however ambassadors for our country as we travel and that is what should matter most. To be a good one. As for bringing up the war in Iraq. Wasn’t necessary in a travel article and was only used as a personal dig at the current administration. Anyway, not all here are as ignorant, biased or uncultured in our beliefs as this article would lead one to believe and certainly no different than some natives that live in all countries. Be careful condescending to who you deem less sophisticated as yourself. While we might be doing without those ‘much needed’ travel dollars, America is still a travel destination for those overseas and will continue to be so but on our terms which we have a right to have in the first place and it doesn’t make us unsophisticated or arrogant to do so.

shaggers 04.07.08 | 11:24 PM ET

I’m an Australian and therefore don’t need a visa. But even I don’t want to go to the US anymore, as much as I love it. The last time I went I was bundled into a room and strip searched because I had left left blank the bit on the form that asked for my address in America. The irony was that I left it blank because I couldn’t honestly say what my address would be - I was supposed to be staying with a friend who was waiting for me outside and I didn’t know where he lived. After harassing me for hours they finally let me call him but he didn’t answer - SO I JUST MADE IT UP AND THEY LET ME THROUGH! Their security protocol was as terrible as their manners.

Rory Boland 04.08.08 | 10:15 AM ET

I think there is two strands to this argument.

I’m don’t think anybody above is countering the claim that entry into the US is increasingly stringent and much tougher than other countries in the world.

The difference is, that for some, such as Icespicol, this is a necessary price to pay for increased security, and he has valid for points about the student visas for 9/11 bombers, while for the majority of people on this board, Americans and non-Americans, it’s not.

As much as we, and I, don’t like the increasing checks that come with entry into America, it is understandable to a point. Europe, particularly Britain and France are weak links, due to the visa waiver scheme, for Islamic terrorists entering the US. Homegrown terrorists isn’t a problem in the US. However, terrorists with French or British passports are real threat to US security, just look at the trials taking place in London last week. Michael Chertoff ranks Islamic terrorists with European passports as one of the biggest threats to US security, I’m sadly inclined to believe him.

However, the US, as usual, takes a machete to a problem that requires a scalpel.

The right for US Air Marshall’s to sit on European flights, originating from Europe, is absolutely ridiculous for so many reasons it’s hard to know where to begin. Why would any nation state let another deploy security forces on its territory? It’s quite galling that the US would ask. Especially when you consider European security apparatus have proven far more adept in dealing with Islamic terrorists.

What defenders of US immigration policy such as Icescipol and Vikci above don’t seem willing to acknowledge is the negative affect all these new procedures and checks has on visitor numbers to the US.

Icescipol despite the hordes of tourists you apparently see around Chicago, the chairmen of Discover America, the US government’s own advocacy group, doesn’t agree. Here is what he has to say late last year.

“Since September 11, 2001, the United States has experienced a 17 percent decline in overseas travellers, costing America 94 billion dollars in lost visitor spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and 16 billion dollars in lost tax revenue,”

“It’s clear what’s keeping people away in the post-9/11 environment: it is the perception around the world that travelers aren’t welcome”

A 17 per cent decline, that’s big.I love the US, it’s a great country with an unbelievable amount to see and do, but nowadays I travel only when essential.Vicki, unfortunatley ‘your’ terms are arrogant. I don’t want to be treated like a criminal everytime I arive, so I’ve stopped going. US immigration is brutal, unnecessarily so. Common courtesy and clear information is not going to help terrorists, but it will encourage visitors to come back.

America can’t have it both ways. Visitors will, for the most part, put up with more checks and tightened admission, if it is explained and fair. Currently, for the most part, it’s not. And because it’s not, tourists won’t go. It really is that simple

Icespicol 04.09.08 | 2:07 AM ET

“...this is a necessary price to pay for increased security, and he has valid for points about the student visas for 9/11 bombers, while for the majority of people on this board, Americans and non-Americans, itís not.”

What I’m reading here is that terrorism has effected us all in many ways; so blame radical Islam for your travel woes as I will for our 17 percent decline in overseas travelers.

And Rory, if you are “galled” at our security presence on originating European flights to the U.S. - don’t be. As soon as that KLM 747 enters U.S. airspace, it’s our responsibility. This is a deterrent to prevent future tragedy, and one of many deterrents we never even see before a departure…all designed to protect lives on that aircraft and lives on the ground.

I must ask, are you also “galled” by the United State’s presence in Europe in the 1940’s? There weren’t many in Europe complaining then. Those men, women and allies likely made it possible for you and I to be posting on this board. So actually, the right that a U.S. Air Marshal has to sit on that aircraft WAS earned - long ago. It is shameful how easily our U.S. AND their Allies veteran’s sacrifices are trod upon and forgotten.

Would-be travelers to the States, I regret your inconvenience(s). Hopefully our TSA officers at the nation’s airports and our lawmakers will read your grievances and treat you with the respect you deserve. It is your right to complain if they aren’t. Writeyour consulates. These measures aren’t in place because we don’t want foreign travelers here. Perceptions aside, unfortunately it’s a new way of life now in the U.S. So it will be.

JOSEPH ROSSI 04.10.08 | 1:11 PM ET

Totally disagree.  Foreigners are coming to the U.S. on vacations in droves.  The dollar is in the toilet and they get almost 2 times for their dollar to ours.  Walt Disney World in Orlando has more foreigners visiting than Americans.

Tim Patterson 04.12.08 | 12:34 AM ET

lcespicol and others -

Sorry it took me a few days to respond - I’ve just traveled from rural Uruguay to backwoods Vermont and am finally settled down in front of a woodstove -

First off, I appreciate the tone of the discussion - this is a sensitive issue, but vitally important for all Americans to discuss.

I agree with the author and commentators who are appalled by our government’s policy and actions towards foreign visitors.  America has a serious image problem abroad at the moment, and the last thing we want to do is discourage visitors from coming to see us, while mistreating those who do manage to jump through the degrading bureaucratic hoops.

Last year my Japanese host father came to visit my family in America.  He’s a real gentleman, and practiced English for months leading up to the trip.  It was horribly embarrassing for me to see how rudely U.S. immigration treated him - it’s a travesty how visitors are treated like cattle, shouted at, pushed and prodded, and expected to speak English with fluency.  My godmother once arrived at my home shaking with fear - she was strip-searched and her car interior shredded at the border.

Security precautions are one thing;  institutionalized rudeness and incompetence are another.  How many trillions will the Iraq War cost?  How much would it cost to hire and train competent and courteous Homeland Security personnel?

On the 9/11 issue - yeah, I understand the need for vigilance - but common sense and common courtesy are both so much more important.  It’s in our national interest to put our best foot forward, to reach out to the world and welcome guests who want to visit. 

There’s gotta be a middle ground between lax security and the uniquely American blend of arrogance, ignorance and self-entitlement that sadly has become the status quo - manifested in all its ugliness in the non-citizen immigration line.

Ling 04.12.08 | 11:58 AM ET

The rest of it is fine, and everyone from Homeland Security to the embassy guys around the world are badly in need of a kick in the behind, but maybe the money spent on the war in Iraq should be left out of this. Whether or not there are American soldiers in Iraq, there’s still plenty of money for airport signs. Heck, Congress appropriates billions of dollars for weird museums and studies that no one ever sees.

DG 04.13.08 | 5:02 PM ET

These self righteous boo America commenters are hilarious. Have any of you ever applied for foreign visas before? Have you visited foreign countries and dealt with crossing borders? The same thing happens everywhere. Hell, there are certain countries it’s impossible to visit for Americans, no matter what. and don’t even get me started on being ripped off by customs and border agents and being treated like dirt. I don’t understand why the US is held to such an impossibly high standard. You can hate a lot of American policies, I do, but the bottom line is there’s no country in the world that treats it’s immigrants half as good as the US and gives them a third of the opportunities.

Tim Patterson 04.13.08 | 8:23 PM ET

DG -

You’re flat wrong on this one.  I’ve crossed a lot of borders, and always been treated with courtesy - even by the Cambodian guy in a wife-beater who asked for a bribe.  Moreover, Americans can almost always count on conducting business in English.  Which countries are impossible to visit for Americans?  Can you show us a list?  No country that treats its immigrants half as good?  Sweden?  Canada?

Doug 04.13.08 | 9:05 PM ET

This is so sad. I come to the Travel Channel on TV and on the internet to find wonderful places to travel and to forget the everyday troubles that I see everyday on the news. But wait, now the Travel Channel will send us to this blog filled with people who still LOVE to bash our country. Will it ever end?

Matt 04.13.08 | 9:37 PM ET

Maybe I’m just cranky, but people who need to “forget the everyday troubles that [they] see everyday on the news” are generally the cause of those troubles. Escapist travelers don’t really do the world much good. Any chance they’re the reason people bash America?

Okay, enough crankiness, back to the argument at hand: Shouldn’t we make a distinction between immigrants and tourists? Curbs on immigration are to be expected, but when visa-carrying tourists arrive on our shores, it would be nice if we (that is, Passport Control) treated them with a bit of dignity. Why, asks DG, are we held to an impossibly high standard? Because we hold ourselves to itóthe United States should live up to its founding principles of equality and justice for all, not just for American citizens. Or do you really want to be in the same league as, say, Cambodia? (Not that I’ve ever been treated poorly by Cambodian border guards. Incompetently, yes, but never cruelly.)

Furthermore, DG, I’d love to know which countries Americans can’t travel to, other than Cuba (thanks to the U.S. govt, not Castro) and North Korea. Even Iran still issues tourist visas, though I’ve heard it can require some patience. Care to name one or two, DG?

Again, I won’t deny that other countries have onerous visa and immigration procedures, or that no one ever gets ripped off or harassed by customs agents and border guards. But that doesn’t mean we should sink to their level.

All of which makes me wonder: Is there a smart list of the most-tourist friendly countries out there? I’m thinking less of tourist infrastructure and more about the ease of entry: what documentation is required, what languages are available, what percentage of visa applications are approved/denied, etc. If there is such a list, where does the US rank on it? Let’s apply some science to our kvetching, people!

Finally, to Joseph Rossi: I don’t care how many foreigners you see at Disney World, a 17 percent decline is a 17 percent decline (if Icespicol is correct). You can disagree all you want, but your refusal to recognize reality doesn’t make it go away.

especially since we (that is, the United States) have earned a deserved reputation for spiriting innocent people away to be tortured in invisible foreign prison camps.

Tim Patterson 04.13.08 | 9:44 PM ET

Good points Matt.  Ever cross into Cambodia at Koh Kong?  I told the immigration officer there that I was a travel journalist for the New York Times but he only discounted my visa to 900 baht - more than the official price.

Americans can go to Cuba.  Here’s how:


Claudine 04.16.08 | 3:03 AM ET

When I visited Ghana, I couldn’t believe all of the red tape that Africans had to go through to visit the United States! That really opened my eyes. I heard horror stories from a professor who was attempting to bring a relative to the United States. I agree that the list of acceptable tourists deters many foreign tourists from visiting.

Vinay Jain 04.16.08 | 7:56 AM ET

I think Eric has summarised the whole issue and succinctly put across what ails the US Administration. It is couldn’t care less atttitude for others which is going to cost them in future as all other nations march towards better understanding and harmonisation.

I recently faced rejecton of visa for my two sons aged 14 @ 12 years who wanted to visit USA with their Aunt (my sister) in their summer vacation for 5 weeks only. Their visit was purely for tourism and to meet up with cousins. The cost of visa application 262 USD was never refunded. The consulate officer just never assigned a reason for rejecting the application.

Now my wife and kids say the world has many more interesting and friendly places to visit where a tourist is welcome with open arms. So why bother about Fortress America.

Joshua 04.16.08 | 3:33 PM ET

In the first full paragraph, did you mean “Hummingbird” Highway? I’ve never heard of the Rainbow Highway. Just checking ...

Brian Bruns 04.18.08 | 2:25 PM ET

While a crew member on cruise ships, I saw literally hundreds of foreign crew every month ending their contracts with thousands of dollars US in their pockets, wanting nothing more than to go to a Hooters, stay at the Marriott, shop at the Gap, then go home. Nope, Uncle Same forced them out of the country within a few hours of signing off. That is after, of course, finger prints and photos and interrogations.

Josse 04.21.08 | 12:46 AM ET

Eric, glad to read your article. As a Dutch resident (free to visit wherever I’d like to in the world…) I’ve travelled pretty much all around the globe but, must admit, have left the States aside for all this time…

Not particularly because I don’t want to see the obvious beauty the USA has to offer (We get Discovery Channel too), but mainly because of the American attitube towards travellers visiting the USA…

The US doesn’t welcome visitors to the country like it should in my perception..

All the American travellers I’ve met around the world have been more than openminded and seem to share all of these thoughts, which makes it so un-understandable for foreign people to grasp…

I will make it around to visit the US too though, but it will remain at the bottom of my list…alas

Bill 04.23.08 | 1:39 AM ET


This happened to us recently.

My girlfriend is a citizen of Kyrgyzstan.  She applied for a US Visa at the embassey in Kyrgyzstan. I work here as a defense contractor. 

She works as a manager with an American Company and had a letter of recomendation from her employer.

I wrote her a letter of invitation along with a copy of our itenerary.  I have had a secret clearance for 30 years.

She brought the deeds to two houses she owns plus the title to her car. Plus her substantial bankbook.  This was in anticipation of convincing the interviewer she was returning.

She had 2 previous Shengen visas for our trips to Europe.

She has never been arrested and her name is not on any undesirable list.

After she paid her money, she went into the interview and was turned down without any interview.  She was not even permitted to produce her documentation which I find ludicrous.

Had we had any notion that she would be rejected, her employer would have gotten her a business visa. But you know, you have to wait 6 months to reapply.

Mohammad Atta didn’t have any trouble getting into the US but I can’t even take my girlfriend to Disneyworld.

Anyway, we ended up having a wonderful time in Italy and Spain.

John M. Edwards 04.23.08 | 4:25 PM ET

Hi y’all:

That’s a long list of bloggers.

All I know is tourism is down in the US.

F. Hagemeister 04.25.08 | 3:51 PM ET

You may find this interesting - read some of the comments too.

darkangel 04.29.08 | 3:27 PM ET

War, War, War, War thats all I want- Uncle sam

Bode 05.02.08 | 2:59 AM ET

America is not Europe, thank God!
If we open our borders and become
less strict while trying to determine who’s coming in, the whole freaking world will be coming here. And please dont tell me that is arrogance. It is a fact.

We have reasons to operate the way we do. If you think that coming here to visit is a burden I strongly recommend you to stay home or go somewhere else.

raju 05.02.08 | 2:34 PM ET

I think Europe is worse than US in not admitting foreigners particularly from Asia or Africa. Recently I was planning to go on a Europe vacation starting in London and going through various European countries and ending in Paris. Europeans don’t waive visa for permanent US residents only for US citizens. Also you need to apply for a separate visa for UK and separate for rest of Europe. They also have a non refundable visa fees both for european union and UK. The UK embassy wants biometrics on everyone and appear in an interview. Guess what, I cancelled my trip and will either go to canada or travel within US. From all the people who I know who have travelled to Europe, I heard that it is a rip off. You get tiny hotel rooms,poor service and everything is expensive. I think the author has unjustly singled out USA for its tough and unfriendly visa policies.I am an Asian by ethnicity but find that US is way more welcoming than Europe.

flojo 05.02.08 | 3:30 PM ET

I would like a win a trip of a lifetime to include some USA trips.  My personal wish would be the American Express train that I would love to go on but cannot afford.

Kathleen Thomas 05.02.08 | 5:21 PM ET

The more I learn about the power people in this country, the more I’m sick to my stomach that the rest of us let it happen.  The economy, the war, racism, anti-immigration policies (in a country that is only 200+ years old, built on the backs of immigrants and the graves of the ‘original’ Americans).

The more I learn, the more I want to know, and the more reason to travel other countries in the world.  Which is ironic, in many ways, how easy it is for me to leave and return, because I’m a US citizen. 

Thank you, Eric Lucas for educating us a little bit more.

Mary 05.03.08 | 4:05 PM ET

Someone above said we should leave 9/11 out of talks about travel….How can you???? If it were not for 9/11 and our current administration, we wouldnít even be having this conversation. Am I incorrect in saying that the rapid decline in U.S. travel occured after 9/11/01? Donít Americans realize that in the last 7 years, Bush and his cohorts have completely eradicated all foreign policy and goodwill, that has taken our country decades to ensure. Does anyone comprehend the implications of this for future generations? This is not something we, as Americans, should read and then forget. This is our legacy. This is our children and grandchildrens issue now, that we are leaving them to deal with.
Yes…we must have security procedures in place for people coming into this country, but being rude, insolent, and ignorant should not be part of the training rountine for our customs officals. A little common sense goes a long way.

Accountants Wrexham 09.11.08 | 5:46 AM ET

I think that many people are now associating america with violence and war now this obviously has something to do with 9/11 and although i have being to america several times and the areas i visited were extremely friendly many people are not giving America the chance to prove how warming the people of America can be and see holidays to the med and sunny areas more appealing.

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