Article by: WENDY LEE , Star Tribune Updated: May 19, 2011 - 7:37 PM
A report says making it easier for foreigners to visit the U.S. would create jobs.

A report from the U.S. Travel Association that pushes to speed up the processing of foreign visas is gaining support from Minnesota tourism officials.

The report says if the U.S. increases its share of the international travel market from 12 percent to 17 percent, 1.3 million more jobs would be created by 2020.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who chairs a Senate subcommittee overseeing the nation's travel and tourism industry, said that would help Minnesota, where tourism brings in $11 billion in annual sales.

"The more we can bring in more tourists, the more people we can employ," said Klobuchar, who'll hold a news conference Friday to express support for the report.

One of the report's goals is to make visa interview wait times a maximum of 10 days. There are several ideas proposed in the report, including hiring 437 more officers to process visas for tourists from Brazil, China and India and letting foreigners pay more to expedite their visas.

On average, overseas tourists spend $4,000 each when they visit the United States. "There is a growing middle class in these countries and they are going somewhere," Klobuchar said.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay declined to comment on the report, but said the department has increased temporary staffing.

"Our challenge is to meet the worldwide visa demand ... without compromising the security of our nation's borders," Clay said.

Klobuchar said she isn't asking for security rules to be changed. The costs for additional officers to process the visas would be more than covered through visa fees, the report said.

But the department said last month that meeting the visa demand is not just a matter of hiring more officers to process visas. There is also a need for more support staff and larger facilities.

Tourism is Minnesota's fifth-largest industry. "It's a tremendous return in investment to help the economy in Minnesota," said Doug Killian, the Mall of America's director of tourism.

The mall said it had 3.3 million foreign tourists last year. An international visitor spends 2 1/2 times more than a local shopper, Killian said.