Following a visit to the Disney World in Orlando, Fla., last week to speak about boosting the country’s economy through tourism, U.S. President Barack Obama announced steps over the weekend to cash in on the country’s tourism potential. Obama is expected to revisit the initiative during his State of The Union address Tuesday (Jan. 24)
The International Business Times reported that Obama indicated relaxing visa regulations for a few countries and faster processing of those visas could attract more tourists to the United States, creating more job opportunities for Americans.
“We’re going to expand the number of countries where visitors can get pre-cleared by Homeland Security so they don’t need a tourist visa,” he announced, adding, “Frequent travelers who pass an extensive background check will be able to scan their passports and fingerprints and skip long lines at immigration at more airports.”
“And we’re going to speed up visa processing for countries with growing middle classes that can afford to visit America – countries like China and Brazil,” he added.
The President further said that tens of millions of international tourists visit America every year and his government would like that number to increase; they want more people to visit and spend money at hotels, restaurants and while shopping and visiting the national treasures, which will provide local businesses and economies a boost.
“Tourism is the number one service we export. And the more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” he said.
The countries under consideration for visa processing rule changes include China and Brazil. This would ensure that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application, according to the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.
Obama’s steps towards capitalizing on tourism also include increasing the number of countries under the Visa Waiver Program. The program allows visitors from participating nations to travel without a visa, for tourism or business, and stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days within a period of six months. Currently, there are 36 countries in the Visa Waiver Program, accounting for about 60% of foreign tourists who visit the U.S. without obtaining a visa, the Department of Homeland Security said.
Since her husband lost his job at the RV factory, Lorena Rodriguez has been holding tag sales on the dry lawn outside their modest ranch house on the edge of town.
The Los Angeles Times reported that as she hawked her four children’s outgrown clothing and bicycles on a recent Friday afternoon, Rodriguez said the family had to turn to food stamps briefly to get by. And even though her husband, Daniel, recently found work, they still struggle to pay the bills.
“It’s still pretty tough,” said the 28-year-old.
All this has deeply colored her opinion of President Obama, whom she supported in 2008.
“He promised so many things. He hasn’t done anything,” said Rodriguez, an independent voter who said she would not side with Obama in 2012. “We had thought he would really help us, but we haven’t seen much from him.”
Among the states that supported Obama in 2008, Indiana was one of the least likely — he was the first Democratic nominee to win the state in 44 years, defeating Republican John McCain by less than 1 percentage point. Strategists in both parties say Indiana is the state he is least likely to hold on to in 2012, largely because of shifts in sentiment by working-class voters like Rodriguez.
Dissatisfaction among those voters, most notably women, could also hamper Obama’s efforts in other vital states in the Midwest. Polling in recent months shows that working-class Americans — already skeptical of the president — have grown increasingly hostile to him, and enthusiasm among women is also waning.
Obama lavished unprecedented attention on Indiana during the 2008 campaign, visiting the state dozens of times and spending millions. He aired ads in Illinois — unnecessarily, because he knew he would romp in his home state — so those next door in northwest Indiana would see his message.
The courtship did not stop once the president took office — he has visited six times in less than three years. Obama’s first trip as president outside the Washington area was to Elkhart, to pitch the economic stimulus. The area is Republican-leaning, but 1,700 people packed a high school gym to hear the president speak.
At the time, Elkhart County had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, at almost 20%. Now that percentage has been cut in half because the RV industry has begun to rebound, but some say the city’s spirit remains broken.
“It’s [gotten] a little better, but not very fast,” said Dave Slayton, 57, a bartender at the Lakeshore Grill who supported Obama in 2008 and plans to do so again. “There’s a lot less crying” at the bar.
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