In January this year, the WH released We Can’t Wait: President Obama Takes Actions to Increase Travel and Tourism in the United States. The presser takes note of the following stats:
The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010. Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010. In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce.
The Executive Order tasked the Department of State with among other things, 1) Increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012; and 2) Ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.
Last week, the State Department issued this media note: State Department Processes One Millionth Visa in China for Fiscal Year 2012. We did a blog post about our One Million Visa Applicants Club, currently with two members, China and Mexico (see US Missions China and Mexico: The One Million Visa Applicants Club) with Brazil on track to join the club.
Then we got an interesting comment from Sarah:
Consular operations in Mexico never get any love. How much you want to be that U.S. consular sections in Mexico issued their 1 millionth visa of FY2012 a month ago and neither the White House nor the State Department said anything, because the American public for some bizarre reason thinks Chinese and Brazilians getting visas translate to more money being spent in the U.S. but visas to Mexicans engender negative images in the average AmCit’s mind. How many outside resources has the DOS sent to consular sections in Mexico vs. in Brazil? In fact, staff FROM consular sections in Mexico has been sent to help Brazil!
That’s intriguing, so we went and look.
US Mission Mexico includes the following posts:
• Mexico: Mexico City
• Mexico: Ciudad Juarez
• Mexico: Guadalajara
• Mexico: Hermosillo
• Mexico: Matamoros
• Mexico: Merida
• Mexico: Monterrey
• Mexico: Nogales
• Mexico: Nuevo Laredo
• Mexico: Puerto Vallarta
• Mexico: Tijuana
• Mexico: VPP El Bajio
• Mexico: VPP Chiapas-Tabasco
In fiscal year 2011 (October 2010-September 2011) , US Mission Mexico issued 1,315,116 nonimmigrant visas. So it’s the first post to reached the one million milestone. There’s Mexico, then China, and maybe Brazil. And if you add Mission Mexico’s visa refusals, that number is even way higher. Visa processing for regular visas prior to April 2012 was $140 a pop, currently at $160. We dug around the interwebs but could not find a State Department or White House statement touting the one million mark last year.
So sorry to report, there were no bells, whistles or fireworks.
We reached out to US Mission Mexico and we were told that “US Mission Mexico routinely issues more than a million visas annually. Mission Mexico is by all measures the largest US consular operation in the world and that will remain true, even if we were passed in NIV volume (which has yet to happen).” US Mission Mexico apparently also has one of the largest US Citizen populations (1 million) overseas, have the most US visitors and lead the world in Special Citizen Services. Which means the mission also has one of the top US passport issuances worldwide.
John B. Brennan, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs (MCCA) for Mexico was kind enough to respond to our email inquiry, in part responding:
We issued approximately 1.3 at the time China was announcing it had passed [a] million. We will be doing at least 50% more than Brazil. Individually Mexico City, Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara and Tijuana all rank among the largest consular operations. Even most of our smaller posts issue more than 100,000 visas.
We expect to issue more than 1.5 million visas in FY2012 and remain the largest NIV post as well.
So how come there’s not much of a news ripple on this? Is it that the dollar value of the US travel from Mexico is not there?
Absolutely not. In fact, Mr. Brennan told us that “the dollar value of travel to the US from Mexico is also higher than any other country requiring visas, by a significant margin.”
We like to have verifiable numbers so we went and dug around some more if we can come up with something solid.
DOC’s International Trade Administration puts out an annual list of visitation and spending in the US by international visitors. In 2011, Canada ($24 billion), Japan ($14.8 billion) and the United Kingdom ($12 billion) took the top three spots. Canadians do not need visas with some exceptions, and Japan and the UK are both visa waiver countries. And here are the next three countries in terms of visitation/spending in the United States:
#4 Mexico (+6%) $9.2 Billion
Visitors from Mexico spent $9.2 billion experiencing the United States in 2011, an increase of 6% when compared to 2010. Although 2011 marks the second consecutive year of growth in U.S. travel and tourism-related exports to Mexico, this market has not fully recovered from the substantial downturn in 2009 (-17%). Travel and tourism exports account for 37% of all U.S. services exports to Mexico
#5 Brazil (+36%) $8.5 Billion
Talk about a growth market. 2011 marks the 8th consecutive year of double-digit growth in U.S. travel and tourism exports to Brazil. Visitors from Brazil spent a record-breaking $8.5 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States in 2011, an increase of 36% that follows an increase of 36% in 2010. Travel and tourism exports account for 39% of all U.S. services exports to Brazil.
#6 China (+47%) $7.7 Billion
Visitors from China spent a record-breaking $7.7 billion in the United States last year, positioning China well ahead of Germany in rankings of top markets for the first time ever. Moreover, U.S. travel and tourism exports to China have increased by at least 30% in seven of the last eight years! Travel and tourism exports account for 29% of all U.S. services exports to China.
So there, visitors from Brazil and China are spiking double digits in terms of visits and spending in the United States but with $9.2 billion of Mexican spending, are we “undercounting” the value of travel at the Mexican border zone?
The item from Sarah about sending staff from US Mission Mexico to assist US Mission Brazil, if true is a curious thing. Consular sections sometimes are able to get away with more officers than really needed because they’ve convinced somebody upstairs that the excess staffing will provide TDY help to other posts in the region who may need assistance. But it is doubtful that Mexico has an excess of staff. See, the wait time for visa appointments in Mexico City is 24 days. Last month, USCG Guadalajara made it as the top #8 consular post on wait time at 47 days (h/t to Consular Corner). Does this sound like a post with an over complement of staff? Brasilia on the other hand has a wait time of just one day. One day. And yet, staff from consular sections in Mexico has been reportedly sent to help Brazil? Could this be the reason why there is an extended wait time in Mexico for visa appointments and almost none in Brazil?
Mr. Brennan was diplomatic enough not to touch on the subject of US Mission Mexico staff reportedly lent to US Mission Brazil, but did address some of our questions in his response to our email:
Our workload grew about 40% during the first half of FY12 — among the highest growth rates in the world. We have backlogs at some posts, not surprising given our workload and growth rate, but they are being addressed. The workload increase is due in significant measure to renewals of Border Crossing Cards (BCC) and for that particular stream of work we have no backlogs. We do not expect growth to continue at these levels but we expect growth to continue. We have made significant investments to meet the predicted BCC renewal workload including a large network (14) of contractor-run facilities doing routine tasks that allow us to leverage our official workforce. We opened a new large consulate in Tijuana in 2011 and will open an even larger consulate in Monterrey in 2013-14. Both of these facilities have significant consular facilities, the one in Monterrey has 41 NIV teller windows and significant space for citizen services. We have several other new facilities on the drawing board. We have among the most efficient staff in the world and are roughly right-sized, though a few increases are planned.
Note that he says, “We have among the most efficient staff in the world and are roughly right-sized…”
To us that means, they have enough people on the bus to tackle the workload. You take away a few to send to Brazil, and your operation undoubtedly suffers. We can’t confirm such is the case here but …we’re looking at the wait times for both missions and note the wide margins.
Anyway, it’s not like US Mission Mexico doesn’t really get any love, it’s just not the same level of hot love we currently have with visa applicants from the emerging economies of China and Brazil.
But — do visas to Mexicans, as Sarah contends, really engender negative images in the average American Citizen’s mind? Can’t say for sure but that is entirely possible. Why, just look at Arizona!
An April 2012 Pew Research report also says that “the most distinctive feature of the modern Mexican wave has been the unprecedented share of immigrants who have come to the U.S. illegally. Just over half (51%) of all current Mexican immigrants are unauthorized, and some 58% of the estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are Mexican.”
It doesn’t matter that almost half the unauthorized migrants did not cross the border. According to yet another Pew report “As much as 45% of the total unauthorized migrant population entered the country with visas that allowed them to visit or reside in the U.S. for a limited amount of time.” This one is a little outdated, but can’t find anything more recent on overstays.
It would be nice if we could look up the data on “overstayers” (international visitors who overstay the terms of their visas) by country. Unfortunately, as of January 2011, US-VISIT computer systems identified having a backlog of 1.6 million potential overstay records.
And so the US-Visit wrestling mania continues.
So perhaps there is a reason here somewhere why US Mission Mexico doesn’t get fireworks and cymbals when it routinely issues over a million visas annually. The WH and State tries to ignore the elephant in the room; it’s there, we’re sure of it. It’s just that there are no loud noises ….
Updated 1:27 pm EST, July 23:
US Mission Brazil includes the embassy in Brasilia and the three constituents posts of Recife, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. An FSO familiar with Mission Mexico operation confirms to us that one tiny consulate sent four local staff for 1-month TDY tours to Mission Brazil, specifically Rio and São Paulo. The officers left at the Mission Mexico posts have to “cover the gaps” left by the employees who went on TDY. And it’s apparently the same story for the other posts in Mexico who also sent staff members to Brazil. However, we do not have the total numbers of how many have been on TDY to Mission Brazil, and if this is a longer initiative or something that will conclude in September, the end of the fiscal year.