President Barack Obama is taking steps to increase the number of non-immigrant visas, particularly in China and Brazil, and speed their approval to help create tourism jobs in the U.S.
Obama, who highlighted the initiative yesterday in Orlando, Florida, also called for the Commerce and Interior Departments to make recommendations on promoting domestic and international travel in the U.S., including national parks and historic sites.
â€œMore money spent by more tourists means more business and more jobs,â€ Obama said at the Walt Disney World theme park. The U.S. should be â€œthe top tourist destination in the world.â€
Travel and tourism represented about 2.7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and supported 7.5 million jobs in 2010, according to a White House statement.
The order and the visit to Orlando are part of the administrationâ€™s run-up to the presidentâ€™s State of the Union address on Jan. 24. The speech will focus on the economy and the steps Obama is taking that donâ€™t require action by Congress. Republican lawmakers are intensifying resistance to his agenda as both parties seek the advantage for November elections that will decide the presidency and control of the House and Senate.
Florida is a major prize in the presidential election, with 29 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House and a recent history of swinging between the Democratic and Republican candidates. Obama won the state in 2008 while Republican George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004.
Fundraisers in New York
Obama followed the stop in Orlando with four fundraisers last night in Manhattan.
As part of yesterdayâ€™s action, he ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to increase non-immigrant processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent this year and ensure that 80 percent of those applicants are interviewed within three weeks. The administration is also seeking to speed up clearance for pre-approved, â€œlow-riskâ€ travelers entering the U.S.
The administration projects the number of travelers from Brazil will increase 274 percent from 2010 to 2016 and the number from China will rise 15 percent. More than 1 million U.S. jobs can be created over the next 10 years if the country expands its share of the international travel market, according to the White House statement accompanying the order.
Tourism is a major component of Floridaâ€™s economy, which is still struggling to rebound from the recession. The president last visited Florida on Oct. 11 when his $447 billion American Jobs Act was being debated in the Senate.
Since then, the stateâ€™s unemployment rate has improved, to 10 percent in November from 10.4 percent the previous month, according to the Department of Labor. The national rate was 8.5 percent in December, down from 8.7 percent in November.
Still, Floridaâ€™s economic health declined 2.1 percent over the first three quarters of 2011, according to a Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States Index, which uses employment, real estate, taxes and local stocks to track the direction of state economies.
Floridaâ€™s mortgage delinquency rate was the highest in the country through the first nine months of 2011, at 18.9 percent compared with 15.7 percent at the beginning of Obamaâ€™s presidency. The national rate was 7.9 percent at the end of September, when the latest data was available from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Obamaâ€™s favorability rating in the state was 45 percent, with 50 percent of the stateâ€™s registered voters saying they had an unfavorable opinion, according to a Jan. 4-8 Quinnipiac University Poll. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
In the Republican presidential race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the current front-runner for his partyâ€™s nomination, gets support from 46 percent compared with 43 percent who said they supported Obama.
In a conference call yesterday, Romney referred to Obamaâ€™s venue at Disney World to talk about the economy.
â€œThereâ€™s some poetic justice in the president speaking from Fantasyland because, Iâ€™m afraid, heâ€™s been speaking from Fantasyland for some time now,â€ Romney said.
Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Ron Paul debated last night in South Carolina before the stateâ€™s primary tomorrow. Florida will hold its primary Jan. 31.
New York Fundraiser
Obama, speaking later to a fundraiser for Jewish leaders in New York, predicted that hard economic times would make his re- election difficult.
â€œUnemployment is still too high, and a lot of people are still hurting and the housing market is still weak,â€ he said at Daniel restaurant in New York. â€œIn that environment, this is going to be a tough race, regardless of who they nominate.â€
In New York, Obama started his fundraising rounds with two separate events at the restaurant on the Upper East Side. About 100 donors will be at the first with ticket prices starting at $5,000, according to an official with Obamaâ€™s campaign who wasnâ€™t authorized to discuss the arrangements publicly. The second event is for 60 guests paying a minimum of $15,000 each.
Later, he also spoke with contributors at the home of film director Spike Lee. Tickets for that event are $35,800, according to the official.
Obama finished his evening in New York at a fundraiser held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The estimated 1,400 donors also saw performances by singers Al Green and India.Arie. The official said tickets start at $200.
Obama Victory Fund
All of the money collected is for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee put together by Obamaâ€™s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
At his first event, he said that international sanctions have put Iranâ€™s economy in â€œshambles.â€
â€œWe have a united international community that is saying to Iran, youâ€™ve got to change your ways,â€ Obama said. Sanctions have been â€œso effective, even the Iranians have had to acknowledge that their economy is in shambles,â€ he said.
On the Middle East peace process, he expressed disappointment and said, â€œWe still have not seen the kind of progress that I would have liked to have seen.â€
He insisted that â€œIsraelâ€™s security is non-negotiableâ€ and pledged, â€œWe will do everything that is necessary to make sure that Israel is able to thrive and prosper as a secure Jewish state.â€