Obama Urged to Scrap Transit Visa Restrictions

US President Barack Obama should consider relaxing current transit visa requirements for non Visa Waiver nations to foster more route development and boost tourism receipts, a senior Air China executive has urged.

Speaking at this year’s Routes Americas conference in Cartagena, Dr Zhihang Chi, Air China’s Vice President and General Manager for North America, said restrictions introduced after September 11 that require non US citizens to obtain a transit visa to transfer through its territory was a barrier to new Chinese flights.

Currently only those travelling under the Visa Waiver Program do not require a transit visa of which China is not a member.  This situation Chi said was pushing more Chinese travellers to transfer via Europe to reach destinations in South America.

“He [President Obama] has announced he will reduce visa restrictions but transit visas are another thing, he should address this issue, if you allow carriers to fly more flights to the US, that’s good for the US and for South American destinations, they are going to eat at the airport, they are going to shop, would you rather take that money or let the Europeans have it.”

In July Air China will begin a new four times Houston–Beijing service and while Chi says the airline is open to launching other US routes, connecting services to South America through the US was not an option while the restrictions are in place.

President Obama has been a vocal supporter of increasing tourism to the US and has said reducing visa restrictions and visa processing times for countries such as China was a priority for his new administration.  But David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council said at Routes Americas visas should be scrapped as they were not fit for the purpose they are designed for.

“The issue [of introducing visa restrictions] is preventing terrorism, but if you think back to 20 years of terrorism most have had the right of residence in the target and the rest are home grown terrorists, so it is a superfluous argument,” he said.