Ensuring America’s national security is a complex task. It is not simply about a strong presence at the borders or the most technologically advanced screening methods. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “A strong economy is just as essential to national security as a strong defense.
Unfortunately, many policymakers seem to be ignoring the economic and diplomatic implications of so-called “security” policies. There is no better example of this than our current visa policy towards countries such as Brazil, China, and India.
In the post-9/11 world, waiting times for visas in these countries and others have swelled to over 100 days. If you are a businessman in Bangalore looking to buy Pennsylvania steel, a Boeing airplane or fasteners from Illinois Tool Works, you have to wait.and wait.and wait.
To no one’s surprise, in today’s competitive marketplace these purchasers often choose not to wait and head to countries where they can quickly buy the products they need.
Our visa policy, under the guise of security and as demonstrated by the decisions of purchasers around the world, is actually threatening our national security.
What policymakers do not seem to understand – or, at the very least, have failed to balance – is the idea that America is a stronger and more secure country when we welcome more visitors. Whether visiting America for business or leisure, these travelers are crucial components to our economy.
The added benefit of welcoming more visitors – one that is only beginning to be understood – is in the area of public diplomacy. We have all heard that America’s image is declining around the globe. What has not received as much attention is an attainable solution. Namely, that those who have traveled to the U.S. are 42 percent more likely to have a favorable opinion of the U.S. – and 72 percent hold favorable opinions of Americans – according to a study conducted by GMI Research.
A strong economy and an improved image around the world are both key to America’s national security. And, international travel to the U.S. is at the heart of both. The challenge is that we, as a country, are doing everything we can to keep visitors out.
It’s time to change that approach. We have launched the Discover America Partnership, a coalition of some of the nation’s foremost business leaders (from Anheuser-Busch, Disney, Marriott and others), to challenge policymakers to recognize the power of travel and strike a better balance between secure borders and open doors. We have challenged the U.S. to welcome 10 million more visitors every year. With each new visitor, we have the opportunity to strengthen our economy, create an ambassador for our country and enhance our national security.
Geoff Freeman is the Executive Director of the Discover America Partnership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit: www.poweroftravel.org