The US is struggling to keep up with surging demand for visas in Brazil and China, as the growing middle class in the world’s two biggest emerging markets flock to US shopping malls and tourist resorts.
The US plans to boost by 100 people this year its staff dedicated to processing visas in the two countries after it issued 35% more travel permits in China this year and 44% more in Brazil, Ed Ramotowski, managing director for US visas, said in a conference call with reporters.
“It’s a function of the robust economy in Brazil,” Donald Jacobson, who oversees visa operations at the US Embassy in Brasilia, said in the same conference call. “Their currency is very strong against the dollar and Brazilians are coming to America to visit Disney World and do lots of shopping”.
To promote job growth and welcome more visitors from the increasingly affluent countries, the US hopes it can handle up to 4 million visa applications in the two countries by 2013, more than double the current amount, Ramotowski said. Together the two countries accounted for about 1.8 million of the 7.5 million visas issued last year.
Even as the US and Europe try to fight off recession, growth in emerging markets is proving resilient, boosting the spending power of consumers in nations like Brazil and China.
Brazilians spent 16.1 billion dollars on foreign travel in the year through September up from 11.5 billion in the first nine months of 2010, as record-low unemployment and a currency that hit a 12-year high in July encouraged them to splurge abroad.
Latin America’s biggest economy expanded 7.5% last year, the fastest in two decades, and will grow 3.8% this year, according to an IMF forecast.
While consular staff in Brazil has doubled since 2005, and is expected to double again this year to 100, the US has had to bring in Portuguese-speaking staff on temporary assignments to handle the flood of visa requests, Jacobson said. In October, more than 90.000 visas were issued, a 67% increase over the same month a year ago, he said.
About 160.000 of the 1 million visas issued last year in China were to students, who make up the largest foreign national group at American universities and colleges, Chuck Bennett, who runs consular operations at the US Embassy in Beijing, also said in the conference call.
“One of our challenges in meeting demand both in Brazil and China is just that we don’t have enough Chinese and Portuguese speakers,” Ramotowski admitted.