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Oh yes. That will work

The United States operates what it refers to as the Visa Waiver Program. This allows citizens of other rich countries to make short visits to the US without the hassle of obtaining a visa in advance. This follows what is pretty much standard practice: citizens of most rich countries can visit most other rich countries without obtaining a visa. In recent times the US has also required visitors to register their passport numbers with a US government website prior to coming to the US, presumably so that potential visitors can be checked against a list of prohibited visitors. This is more than most other rich countries require (although my native Australia has a very similar system) but is a very minor inconvenience.

Up until now, this whole process has been free of charge to the traveler. However, as of September 8, the US will start charging a $14 fee for people who wish to use the visa waiver program.

It is not actually terribly uncommon for governments to extort charge money from tourists in ways like this, but it is once again relatively unusual for such fees to be charged when citizens of one rich country visit another rich country. (Fees are more common when citizens of rich countries visit poor countries or vice versa). As a frequent traveler, however, I find such fees loathsome. Having a moneygrubbing government steal money from you is not a good first impression of a country. Such policies do of course influence where I choose to travel to, and whether I will return to a country for multiple visits.

What does boggle the mind about the new US policy is its justification. The fee has been introduced under something called the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, which was passed with overwhelming support in both houses of Congress. Apparently, the money is to be used to set up something called the Corporation for Travel Promotion, which will apparently “promote America to overseas tourists”, and thus halt the decline in tourism to the US.

Got that?  A tax is to be imposed on tourists, the proceeds of which will be used to set up a new bureaucracy to promote US tourism to foreigners, who will then come in greater numbers.


28 comments to Oh yes. That will work

  • Laird

    Hey, Michael, you’re rich; you can afford $14. And anyway, the airport fees and taxes are more than that; what’s one more nuisance fee? We need the money!

  • Nick

    How very Keynesian.

  • John Galt

    I think it is a wonderful idea. Since Bush got elected (i.e. his second term, not the first). I’ve avoided going to the US as I don’t support fascism in any form and the US are the most jackbooted fascists around.

    In actual fact, it is the ordinary American citizen that I feel most sorry for. They have had their country stolen away from them by the elite and are forced to pay for this theft time and again.

    As Homer Simpson once said “Did we lose a war? That ain’t America – it ain’t even Mexico”.

  • Jessica Boxer

    It doesn’t seem unreasonable for the government to charge a fee for a service, the service of verifying you are eligible to enter the country. Especially so to a non taxpayer such as yourself; perhaps a taxpayer might claim they already paid, a claim that you can’t make.

    However the whole quango thing seems a little odd.

  • Of course, this is yet one more requirement/tax that illegal aliens will not be subject to…

    Not for anything but the US discriminates against legal travelers. Where is the skip immigrations and customs line at the airport?????

    I visited Australia in 1995. The ‘exit visa’ fee still pisses me off. It was noting more than a money grab, especially given that I only obtained it at a window at the airport after not being allowed to exit the country via the neighboring line.

  • jackthesmilingblack

    Won’t affect me directly. Just hope other nations don’t take their cue from the United States of Torture.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Well THAT will definitely stop a few terrorists from coming here.

  • C

    uhh… Australia has been charging $20 (near enough to U$14) for a long time. EU citizens don’t have to pay but still have to register. Also it has cost $6 to enter the US by land from Canada for at least a decade ..

  • Peter

    If anyone doesn’t like the idea of schemes like this – then try travelling from New Zealand anywhere else. I’m an Australian citizen and when I went there a year and a half ago – upon receiving my boarding pass to leave the beautiful country I was promptly told to visit the bank next to the boarding gate. They take you to the “Bank of New Zealand” whereupon they charge you. I did not look into it further at the time; it may be an airport tax. However the action of being frog-marched towards the national bank – would warm the cockles of all libertarians hearts.

  • Nuke Gray

    I think it would boil my cockles, as my rage would be astronomical, except I am not sure of the meaning of the word ‘cockle’. As for NZ, they have a self-made millionaire for a Prime Minister, so you have to hope that capitalism will flourish there.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Michael, the timing of this article is uncanny, as I am applying online to get my visa waiver form status sorted out (I am planning to head to the States on business in a few months, to NY, in case any commenters want to meet me).

  • John Dacre

    uhh… Australia has been charging $20 (near enough to U$14) for a long time.

    And your point is…?

  • Australia recently stopped charging the $20 fee to Europeans, actually. What happened is that the EU pointed out to the Australian government that Australians have visa free and payment free access to all of the EU, and that all citizens of the EU should therefore have the same right to visit Australia without charge. Australia ultimately agreed that this was reasonable, and increased the list of countries that did not require a formal visa so that it included the entire EU (including Bulgaria, Romania etc) and removed the fee for European applicants (including eligible non-EU Europeans such as Norwegians and Swiss).

    If the US were to make a similar demand of Australia, with an added “Just treat our citizens the same way you treat Europeans”, Australia would agree to the same deal in about 20 seconds. In doing so, the US would have done something actually useful for its citizens. Instead they have introduced a new tax that will reduce incoming tourism in order to create more jobs for bureaucrats, while at the same time making such a deal impossible.

    Seriously, governments going all tit for tat over visas and immigration policies is awful. “We will require visas and impose fees for your citizens because you require them and impose fees for us” may make the bureaucrats imposing the fees feel better, but for individual people trying to travel (who do not set their governments policies – I have always been opposed to that $20 fee imposed by mine) they just make life harder.

  • Paul Marks

    The United States has many thousands of “laws” (even just counting the Federal ones), but has been moving away from the “rule of law” for many years. Indeed most modern American lawyers and academics (the people who give the lawyers their world view) would reject the basic principles of the rule of law as hopelessly reactionary.

    Many things that are considered “crimes” by the Federal “justice” system have no connection to the traditional definition of a violation of a person’s body or goods. And most “laws” are simply the whims of administrators under vague enabling power passed in Acts of Congress which the members of the Senate and the House do not even read.

    The recent 2000 plus page financial Act is a good example of this – even if the Congress people had read the thing (which they BOAST that they did not) all they would find are vague enabling powers allowing government creatures to make up “laws” as they wish. This Act is not an exception – this has become the norm in many Western nations, but ESPECIALLY the United States.

    Also the Federal court and prosection system is stacked against the defendent. Someone can act in ways that were normal business practice and yet be financially destroyed – under regulations sold to the public as “anti fraud” yet the business practicies they attack HAVE NO CONNECTION TO FRAUD, indeed often a businessman does not even know (and HAS NO WAY TO FIND OUT) that his actions were “illegal” till he is arrested.

    This is an outrage under both the Common Law and the Roman Law traditions of law – a person making “resonable” efforts must be able to find out whether his conduct is legal IN ADVANCE. If government (as in the United States) can just arrest you for things that you had no reasonable way of knowning were unlawfu then the rule of law is at an end.

    Also the way American Federal prosecutions are structures makes a mockery of the “presumption of innocence”.

    Let us be honest – a person is ASSUMED GUILTY in the American financial trial process. He or she is assumed guilty from the moment they are led IN CHAINS before the media on their arrest (the “perp walk”).

    The whole modern structure is designed to make the accused “cut a deal” – i.e. plead guilty (to something) in order to get a reduced punishment.

    If someone refuses to cut a deal – then all sorts of pressures (financial and physical – such as the threat of being sent to a tough prison) can be put upon them AND UPON THEIR FAMILY.

    This is nothing new – for example Mr Milken only “cracked” when the Federal prosecutors (acting in the service of the powerful interestes Mr Milken had offended) threatened to throw his elderly father in prison. But it has got worse and worse with the passing of time.

    The latest financial Act completes the process – now ALL of the financial industry (and they use a very broad definition of “financial industry” – for example does your manufacturing company give credit to customers? Then you are part of the “financial industry”) is under the total and ARBITRARY power of the Feds.

    The time when one could say “if I avoid certain lines of work, such as junk bond trading, then the Feds will not hurt me” is OVER.

    And all the above also applies to non American citizens – and to people who have never even been in the United States.

    Therefore I would advise Mr Jennings (and other people even vaguely connected to the financial industry) to avoid the United States. They can arrest you for “crimes” that are no such thing, and they can do just about anything to you (and to the finances of your family, RICO and so on orginially “just for the Mafia” now applied to everyone) in order to make you “cut a deal” and confess to something.

    By the way Britain has such a loose extradition treaty with the United States (the American prosecutors do NOT have to prove that one has done something that would be considered criminal in Britain – or even show good evidence that one has done anything at all) so it might be best to avoid Britain also.

    Even the Swiss are bending to modern fashions (i.e. turning away from the rule of law) but there is more left of the rule of law in Switzerland (or even in France and Germany) than there is in the United States.

    Should anyone in the financial industry doubt this ask yourself the following question.

    Would I rather be prosectued in Switzerland (or Germany or even France) or the United States?

    The clearness (or rather lack of clearness) of the law, the nature of the prosectution process, the punishments one faces – all these point AWAY from the United States.

  • Mike Wilson

    This would be less annoying if it were not for the US habit of making transfer passengers go through immigration before immediately leaving the country.

    Having designed their airports so that international and domestic flights are mixed, they can’t change the practice anytime soon, but this will make travel via the US even less attractive.

    I have “fond” memories of a 4 hour stopover in Houston to get to Guatemala – only just made it to the flight after all the delays getting through immigration and then back through security.

  • tehag

    And to think that a little over a 100 years ago, passports were almost unknown until an international assembly of governments decided to impose them. There’s just no stopping a bad idea whose time has come. Not without a guillotine, anyway.

  • Pete

    So you’d rather all taxpayers paid for this waiver service, which must be the current situation, rather than just the people who use it?

    You’ll be telling us the TV use tax used to fund the BBC is a good idea next.

  • The sad thing is that this scheme will probably work very well, I really doubt the $14 will change many people’s minds about going to the US, especially since the minimum you can spend to get there from Eureope is around $600.

    OTOH a dedicated marketing campaign could improve tourism a great deal.

    If the fee was something like $2000 then it would probably be a different story, but $14 will not.

  • Laird

    Seriously, if they’re going to charge a fee (and you know that all governments nibble you to death with junk fees like this), I’d much rather it be an entry fee than an exit fee. At least you can decide not to come here. With an exit fee you’re held hostage until it’s paid.

  • Vinegar Joe

    “Corporation for Travel Promotion”?

    Hmmmmm………..sounds a lot like the British Travel Authority.

  • Paul Marks

    For international flights – try and avoid American airspace (if at all possible). But if not then at least do not change planes in America (that is asking for trouble).

    Change in Canada (if you must change) – even exculding the demented nature of American “security”, the Canadian air traffic control is much better (so less time waiting – at least according to my Canadian kinswomen).

    The BBC said after the first aircraft crashed into the World Trade Centre that this was because of the privitized nature of American air traffic control (yes the silly swine really said that). In reality American air traffic control is government run – it is Canada that privitized it.

  • ” the demented nature of American “security” ”

    Last time I was in Miami en route to the UK I had two cigarette lighters stolen from me by airport guards. “Security reasons.” I don’t understand how you can hijack a plane armed with a 50c plastic Bic lighter, or even two. I waited for them to offer to send the lighters on to my destination address but they didn’t. There wasn’t even time to explain to the guards that this disregard for the inviolability of private property was tantamount to communism, or that both lighters were of incalculable sentimental value to me. It was then I realised that a terrible Evil had befallen that once proud country. Never again will I set foot there if I can possibly avoid it.

  • Devil’s advocacy alert, Endivio: you could use the lighters to set fire in the plane, and the guards in question could be held responsible for that – so they were simply covering their posteriors. Nevertheless, I do agree with the overall thrust of your comment.

  • It’s likely that the lighters were confiscated as a consequence of a safety regulation rather than a security regulation – the concern being more that they could be a factor in an accident rather than a terrorist act. More or less anything containing liquid fuel has been banned on aircraft since long before September 11, on the basis that a fire in an aircraft can be very dangerous. I confess I have more sympathy for these regulations than I do for the more stupid security regulations, although they are still probably in some instances excessive.

  • a.sommer

    Got that? A tax is to be imposed on tourists, the proceeds of which will be used to set up a new bureaucracy to promote US tourism to foreigners, who will then come in greater numbers.

    Compared to the usual idiocy Congress comes up with, this *is* brilliant- it’s a way to extract funds from people who are unable to vote against them next election.

    I suspect similar logic explains why deficit spending is so popular- politicians have figured out that the people who’s taxes are going to be paying it off aren’t even born yet, and won’t be eligible to vote for almost two decades.

  • Sunfish

    What kind of lighters? If they were fueled by butane or other pressurized gas, Michael Jennings called it exactly. If they were liquid-fueled like Zippos and at all valuable, then you most-likely found a screener with sticky fingers.

  • Actually I was mostly being facetious. They were the usual butane ones and not at all valuable. Is there a tag for facetiousness? This always happens to me. When I’m serious people say I must be joking: when I joke they assume I must be serious.