The land is not your land

It’s no secret that foreign travel to the United States has fallen off dramatically since 9/11. The number of visitors from countries outside of Canada and Mexico is down 17 percent while travel worldwide is up 20 percent. Visitors from Japan are down 27 percent.

The result is we’re losing out on billions of dollars in tourism and business travel. One study puts the loss since 2000 at $116 billion in visitor spending and taxes and 200,000 jobs.

To remedy this, the Senate Commerce Committee has approved a bill that the Associated Press says would establish a nonprofit public-private corporation to promote travel to the United States and create an office in the Commerce Department to simplify the visa process.

With all due respect to the senators, we don’t need to promote the United States as a travel destination. People want to come here but out of misplaced concerns about security and immigration we make it a bureaucratic ordeal to do so.

Having an office to streamline and simplify our visa and customs procedures is a fine idea, but the Commerce Department doesn’t have that responsibility, the departments of State and Homeland Security do.

The Senate committee should hold a few hearings on how we can stop treating would-be visitors like criminals and make them wait months for visas, then gather up the recommendations and enact them into law.

For an example of how we can screw up travel, the senators need look no further than downtown Washington, D.C., and the U.S. passport office. Thanks to new passport requirements for travel to and from places that never before needed one there is a backlog of 3 million passport applications and the waiting time is up to three months. The State Department has had, at great cost, to redeploy hundreds of new diplomats to the basically clerical task of clearing up that backlog.

We don’t just discourage foreigners. We discourage our own people as well. We’re a land of equality.