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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Visa delays 'cost US firms $30bn'
An armed guard outside the US Congress
US firms say tough security is causing commercial losses
Delays in granting visas for business travellers have cost US firms at least $30bn (16.2bn) since July 2002, says a survey by eight corporate lobby groups.

Extra security checks were introduced in July 2002, forming part of the greater vigilance in protecting the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

But delays, and a new vetting system, have brought lost sales and higher costs, the Financial Times reported.

Companies dealing with politically sensitive technology were worst hit.

Nearly three-quarters of the 734 US companies questioned for the survey reported visa application delays, while 60% said delays had hurt their business, the FT reported.

Growing frustration

More than half said the situation had worsened in the last 12 months.

Medium sized firms suffered more commercial damage than large ones.

"Our companies have expressed growing frustration to government officials and Congress for nearly two years over the broken business visa system, but to no avail," Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, was reported as saying by the FT.

The survey - due to be published in the US on Wednesday - was commissioned by employers' groups, including the Aerospace Industry Association, and those with members doing business in Russia, China and Vietnam.

Business travellers from those countries are prominent among those whose visa applications receive most scrutiny.

Sensitive technology

Hardest hit were firms whose staff, and potential customers, must submit to extra security checks introduced in July 2002.

The new system was designed to protect sensitive technology whose spread or misuse could have implications for US national security.

Aerospace, chemicals and computing firms all fall within its remit.

About 14,000 visa applications are believed to have been reviewed under these rules last year.

But the US consular service says waiting times have been improved and that 80% of visas are decided within three weeks.

"We are much, much better than we were," the FT cited Janice Jacobs, US deputy assistant secretary of state for consular affairs as saying.

Targeted countries

Business travellers from Russia, India and China suffered most frequent visa delays, while those from Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea were next worst hit.

The US has introduced a welter of measures to protect its borders - from finger printing visitors to airline security - since the suicide hijackings that destroyed the World Trade Centre, killing 3,000 people.

Last week, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the EU agreed on the legal framework permitting US airlines to check passenger lists of European airlines.

However, some firms have benefited from tighter US border security.

A consortium including Accenture, Dell, Titan and Raytheon has won a $10bn contract to manage the screening system for foreigners entering and leaving the US from the Department of Homeland Security, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.




WATCH AND LISTEN
William Reinsch of the Nat. Foreign Trade Council
"We think that you can have good security...without compromising globalisation"



SEE ALSO:
US fingerprints 'allied' visitors
03 Apr 04  |  Americas
UK and French flights 'targets'
31 Jan 04  |  Americas
Bush under fire over terror alert
27 May 04  |  Americas


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