Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Lingle doubtful
on visa waiver

The governor says there
is no easy way to process
more Korean visitors

Gov. Linda Lingle, just back from a 10-day mission to China and South Korea, predicts there will be no visa waiver program for Korean visitors.

Far East Journal

Lingle said she and Hawaii tourism officials including Rex Johnson, executive director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and Marsha Wienert, state tourism liaison, met with American Embassy officials in Seoul last week.

"It is my opinion that the visa waiver program will not come any time soon. That is my gut feeling, and I think most people there would agree with me," Lingle said yesterday during a news conference.

The American Embassy in Seoul, Lingle said, processes more visas than any other U.S. embassy.

"Last year, there were 350,000 visas processed; 400,000 are expected to be processed this year, and half a million by next year.

"I have never been more impressed with government employees in my life as these American Embassy officials working to make the process easier and more comfortable for citizens of Korea," Lingle said.

But she said there is no simple way to get more people processed.

Lingle said to help Koreans who want to travel, it should be made known that a visa is good for 10 years. "So they can come back time and time again," Lingle said.

"The whole visitor industry in Korea has to make a reference to that," she said.

Two years ago, Lingle suggested a special Hawaii-only travel document to increase tourism from Asian countries.

Lingle then said her office was getting daily complaints or pleas for help from business and educational travelers who were having problems getting visas. The situation has not changed, she said.

Wienert said Hawaii had as many as 120,000 visitors from South Korea at one time, but long waits for visas and a downturn in the Korean economy slowed the number of visitors. Last year, just 34,000 came, she said.

In the last decade, Hawaii officials have tried to speed up or eliminate the visa programs for visitors from South Korea.

In the mid-1990s it took only 10 days for visas to be issued, but since then the State Department has made it harder.

Koreans asking for visas must go through a personal interview. Lingle said yesterday that those on a high-priority list, such as students, can get an interview in 10 days, but it then takes longer for it to be processed.

In 1996, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye called for a trial visa waiver program, but it was not approved.

Office of the Governor

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