Forty mayors from 18 states have signed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which they beg the State Department to speed up issuing visas to tourists, whom they want to see back and spending in their towns from Austin, Texas, to Urbana, Illinois.
All those missing visas cost the U.S. economy around $5 billion in 2022 and will reduce tourist arrivals by 2.5 million in 2023 at a cost of another $7 billion, the mayors claim in their Feb. 13 letter to Blinken.
“Sanctuary” cities such as New York really could use this money, because these cities now realize what it means when those blank checks they wrote—promising unlimited housing, education, and social services for foreign nationals who pay no taxes—start getting cashed.
It is slowly dawning on even the most leftist local politicians that supporting President Joe Biden’s reckless open-borders policies have serious costs for states and cities. The flood of illegal immigrants comes when city budgets are already reeling from COVID-19 shutdowns and high crime.
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, America’s cities shut down schools, restaurants, theaters, and transportation. However, many cities kept closed well beyond the worst phase of the pandemic, exacerbating lost revenue.
The powerful Chicago Teachers Union demanded school closures into 2022, despite growing evidence that masks did not prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that natural immunity gave significant protection.
The District of Columbia still has mask mandates for government buildings, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, has only just started advocating return of the federal workers who sustain the city’s food and service businesses.
In New York, now that tourism is reviving, Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, is using valuable hotels to house illegal immigrants, thereby sabotaging the surrounding restaurant and services trade.
Even when COVID-19 measures finally receded, it didn’t help the tourism industry that mayors in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and many other tourist meccas had ignored vagrancy, street camping, drug dealing, and other repellant behavior. Meanwhile, leftist prosecutors were deliberately refusing to prosecute theft, vandalism, and assault, while releasing repeat violent offenders on to the streets.
Lately, as thousands of illegal immigrants arrive in their cities, Bowser, Adams, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock all have declared emergencies. But the federal emergency taps take time to turn on, and even then they won’t flow in perpetuity. If you add tens of thousands of new indigents to a city, someone has to pay the taxes to support the free services they get.
This results in a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation for cities such as New York and the District of Columbia that depend on domestic and foreign tourists. When the hotels are home to illegal immigrants, they aren’t full of thousands of paying visitors who want to eat in restaurants, visit museums, and buy souvenirs, all of which are subject to significant local taxes.
In New York City, local business operators are angry to be losing customers due to the drop in paying visitors at nearby hotels. These shops and restaurants will collect less sales tax, as those on bare public benefits don’t spend like tourists.
And the overall lost revenue means they will pay less in federal, state, and city income taxes to fund the future billions that the city’s Office of Management and Budget estimates it will cost New York to cope with the never-ending flow from the Mayorkas Migration Machine.
Hotels currently booked by the city to house illegal aliens are enduring short-term physical damage from the experience, and they may suffer longer-term reputational damage.
Why Are Visa Wait Times So Long?
Pandemic-related shutdowns of consular sections overseas threw the entire visa application system into the tank. The math is simple: Each embassy or consulate only has so many officers, and a consular officer can do only so many interviews in an hour.
Each day an overseas consular section was closed increased the backlog in that country by a day’s worth of interviews. Today’s one- or two-year wait times in some places represent the total of lost days.
In their letter to Blinken, the 40 mayors complain of “a severe backlog in the processing of U.S. visitor visas” that is “due to the lack of prioritization of visitor visa categories.”
Although the State Department says the median wait time has gone down from 120 days a year ago to only 50 today, that is a worldwide average and includes categories such as students and temporary workers who have been prioritized over visitors in response to pressure from universities and employers.
Over two years of COVID-19 slowdowns, many embassies allowed interviews for visitor visas only in emergencies (for example, for funerals or medical treatment). Such exceptions aren’t likely to fill the coffers of tourist towns such as Las Vegas or Nashville.
Visitors from some developed, low-risk countries may use the Visa Waiver Program, which doesn’t require a physical interview and a paper visa stuck in passports. But visitors from the rest of the world must demonstrate to a consular officer that they have the means to travel to the U.S. and, more importantly, are well established enough with jobs, money, and property in their home country that they are likely to return. This requires a physical interview, during which the applicant’s fingerprints and photo are taken and databases are checked for any criminal or terrorist history.
No Magic Wand
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the wait for a tourist visa is 528 days and in Bogota, Colombia, it’s 872. Visitor visa wait times in New Delhi and Mexico City are over 600 days.
Brazil, Colombia, India, and Mexico have hundreds of billionaires among them and millions more wealthy residents, many of whom like to visit the U.S.—particularly Florida, which is probably why nine mayors from that state signed the letter to Blinken.
The State Department can’t wave a magic wand to answer the 40 mayors’ request. Prioritizing one type of visa case at the behest of the noisiest lobbies means other cases go to the back of the line.
U.S. mayors are learning that immigration policies are no different than others, such as crime and COVID-19. Impossibly liberal, generous programs have unlimited costs.
When the money or public patience runs out, policymakers must make tough choices.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal