Saturday, June 18, 2005

Isle-bound Koreans hope
for speedier visas

Far East Journal
SEOUL » Day 9: Our morning began with a meeting organized by the Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce for Hawaii and Korean business leaders. The discussion centered on the opportunities for Korean businesses to invest in our state, and for Hawaii companies to form partnerships in Korea.

My meeting with U.S. Charge d'Affaires Mark Minton was very interesting. He shared that the U.S. Embassy in Korea processes the most visas of any U.S. embassy in the world. Last year, the embassy here processed 350,000 visas, and their goal is to increase this number to 400,000 by the end of 2005.

Realizing how important the visa issue is to Hawaii's tourism industry and economy, Minton and Acting Consul General Michael Kirby invited me to observe the visa processing center at the U.S. Embassy. Upon our arrival at the embassy, we saw a long line of Korean citizens wrapped around the corner as they waited patiently to be interviewed as part of the visa process. Consul General Kirby informed us that the embassy interviews approximately 2,800 people per day.

I was impressed with the effort the U.S. Embassy is putting into addressing the visa issue for Koreans, and its willingness to further improve the process. Acting Consul General Kirby and Hawaii Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert will be in communication on specific ways that we can help with the visa process. I take comfort in knowing that the embassy staff here is committed to working with us on this important matter for our state.

At a special luncheon for our delegation, Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon welcomed me with tremendous warmth and hospitality. We discussed the roles Hawaii and Korea play on the world stage. We exchanged thoughts on globalization and the bonds of friendship between Hawaii and Korea. The luncheon was an outstanding opportunity for our entire delegation to interact with the foreign minister and members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Bureau.

As I did in Shanghai and Beijing, I held a news conference with Korean travel and business media. This event, coordinated by Hawaii Tourism Asia, was an integral part of our mission as it provided an opportunity to promote Hawaii among the top travel and business writers in Korea. Last year 40,000 Korean visitors came to Hawaii, and tourism leaders have a goal of increasing this number by 10 percent to 44,000 this year.

Tomorrow we fly to Jeju Island to meet with Governor Tae-Hwan Kim and Deputy Governor Kye-Sik Lee as we reaffirm our 19-year sister/state relationship. This resort island off the southern Korean Peninsula is Korea's Hawaii, and attracts tourists from across Asia. I am honored to be the first sitting Hawaii governor to make an official visit to Jeju.

Office of the Governor

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