For optimal user experience, please upgrade your browser.
Shopping Visas

Travel Visa Reform

Floating Widget

Floating Share Widget

Open Markets for Consumer Goods

The NRF Retail Opportunity Index encourages Congress to open markets for consumer goods by tearing down trade barriers that drive up prices for American shoppers and limit export markets for American companies, ending regulations that artificially drive up prices, and making it easier for foreign visitors to come to the United States to shop. Learn more.

The Issue

American brands are highly coveted status symbols in nations with rapidly growing economies, and newly affluent citizens of those nations are ready to travel and spend. Just a few years ago, it could take up to four months for citizens of some key countries, including China, India and Brazil, to obtain the visas necessary to travel to the United States. The lengthy waits spurred many would-be shoppers to take their money to destinations like London or Paris instead. Following advocacy from NRF, wait times were significantly reduced during the Obama administration, but more action is still needed to ensure that the reductions are consistent and permanent, and that international travelers have the opportunity to visit the United States.

Why it Matters to Retailers

Foreign visitors often spend heavily – an average $4,000 per trip – and are highly valued by U.S. retailers. A U.S. Travel Association study estimates that reducing visa waits to 10 days or less on a uniform basis could create 1.3 million more U.S. jobs and add nearly $900 billion to the U.S. economy. In addition to seeking quicker processing of visas, American retailers have taken a number of steps to welcome foreign shoppers, such as hiring multilingual sales associates, offering information on their web sites in a variety of languages, and installing special terminals to accept Chinese credit cards.

Beyond discouraging foreign shoppers, long visa waits can make it difficult for retailers to bring foreign employees to the United States for training or meetings and for foreign retailers to attend events such as NRF’s annual convention.

NRF Advocates for Faster Visas

NRF helped persuade the Obama administration to increase staffing and take other steps to speed up visa processing at embassies and consulates around the world. In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order directing the State Department to do so, and wait times were reduced to as little as one day in Beijing and Rio de Janeiro and five days in Mumbai. Waits in the first two cities remain relatively stable at two or three days but the wait in Mumbai has crept back up to two weeks. Wait times continue to fluctuate, those in smaller cities can be longer, and improved staffing is subject to always-shifting budget priorities. As a result, NRF has pushed for passage of legislation to make the improvements permanent. A bill requiring the State Department to process visa applications “expeditiously” passed the Senate in 2013 and another setting a maximum wait of 10 days was introduced in the House. Five years after Obama’s action, however, no bill has yet won final passage. NRF is a leading member of the Discover America Partnership, a coalition that continues to push for improved visa processing.