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White House visa plan could attract thousands more foreign visitors

President Barack Obama's plan to boost foreign travel to the U.S., unveiled today in Orlando, is expected to make it easier for thousands of new visitors to travel here -- particularly from Brazil. 

The proposal calls on the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to increase the non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent this year. Often, people must wait as much as 100 days just to get an apointment with a consular official to secure a visa.

The agencies will be asked to ensure that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of the receipt of their application. They also announced a pilot program that will simplify and speed up the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants, including the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants, such as individuals from any country renewing non-immigrant visas, or, in Brazil, younger or older first-time applicants.

The White House points out that the U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment, representing 2.7% of GDP and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. International  travel to the United States supports 1.2 million jobs alone. The travel industry says that for every 35 visitors to the U.S., one job is created here. 

"Today’s announcement offers important steps to bolster job creation through a range of steps to better promote the United States as a tourism destination and improve secure visa processing," the White House said.

Obama's visit to Orlando to announce the proposal comes as the presidential primary action is about to shift to Florida. Republicans on Thursday complained that the visit was a thinly veiled campaign swing for the president. "It's amazing that this president seems to find himself almost every day in battleground states, paid for by the taxpayer," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus 

The White House countered that Orlando is one of the tourism centers of the universe, and a natural place to announce the plan: "This president, as every president is, is president of all the United States of America, of all the people in the country," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday. "And he's going to travel around the country to talk about the issues that are important to Americans in every state, including, most importantly, economic growth and job creation."

Meanwhile, business and tourism groups lauded the visa plan. Visitors spend as much as $5,000 each when they come to the United States, points out the U.S. Travel Association -- and not just on lodging and food and transportation. They also shop. A lot. 

Here's how the National Retail Federation sees it:

"There are millions of citizens of nations with growing economies who want to come to the United States to shop for brands that are known around the world,"  NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. "We shouldn’t let long lines at U.S. embassies and consulates make them decide to take their shopping dollars elsewhere."