Helping International Visitors Obtain Visas
by Michael Hough
These notes are from a special briefing December 12, 2002 at
the IAEM Annual Meeting, given by C. Edward Dickens, Consular
Affairs Bureau, U.S. Department of State.
Visas are issued to individuals and not to groups (such as
a buying team from a particular country). Individuals should
apply as soon as the decision is made to attend the show.
Issuance of a visa depends primarily on whether the consular
officer in the country believes the applicant will return
to his home country following his visit to the U.S.
Since 9/11, all applicants must be run through a database
of bad guys, which has delayed the process. This is particularly
true for certain "countries of interest" (list is
classified but can be surmised).
Lately the situation has improved and in most instances
the visa is being acted on within 30 days or less. But checks
may take longer, depending upon country and application information.
Based on the discussions at the session, here are my recommendations
on how to make it as easy as possible for your international visitors
to obtain visas:
Start your international promotion much earlier - say 9
months out. Post on your web site a checklist re how your
international prospects should go about applying for a visa
(IAEM is working up standard wording for this).
If you have a history with the individual, offer to send
a letter of invitation (as needed). Send this letter directly
to the individual (not the consular officer) which the individual
will attach to his visa application. The letter should:
Be on your show's actual letterhead (and not simply an
email). If you send it electronically, make the letter an
Include a short statement establishing the importance
of your show to U.S. exports (such as Widget Expo is the
largest widget manufacturing show held in North America).
Be as specific as possible about the individual's bona
fides, such as the number of years he has attended your
show, whether he is a speaker, committee member, etc. Also,
if possible, mention why his attendance will help U.S. exports
(such as he is chief of widget purchasing for his firm).
Emphasize your show is a date certain event and thus it
is important to expedite the issuance of the visa.
Not make any recommendations nor guarantees about the
If you do not have a history with the individual, be careful
about vouching for him. Suggest you have him prove to you
his sincere/legitimate interest in your show. If this convinces
you, then send the letter of invitation. But do not go beyond
what you know to be true about the individual.
Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author of The
Profitable Trade Show (www.profitabletradeshow.com). He also co
produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (www.eceforum.com).
Copyright 2003 MRH Associates, Inc. All rights