IAA Opening Day Plagued by Visa Woes

200 People Unable to Attend

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Visa woes dampened the opening of the International Advertising Association's 41st World Congress today, as nearly a quarter of attendees were prevented from coming.

Conference organizers said that of the 900 expected attendees, 200 delegates were unable to get U.S. visas for the event despite pleas to consular officials and ambassadors. That put total attendance of opening day at 700.

Delegates warned in advance
"The visa application process now is so complicated. You apply on line. You wait for an appointment to go to the consulate," said IAA executive director Michael Lee. "We warned our delegates in advance. But we had a lot of delegates being granted appointments for weeks after the World Congress."

Mr. Lee said he had spent recent weeks pleading with ambassadors and consular officials around the world to rush things along, though with limited success.

"We had a situation in Jakarta where four people went to the embassy and three were given visas and one was randomly denied a visa," he said.

"I don't know all these people, but in many markets, these are fairly substantial advertising executives. In one instance where I was writing to an embassy, I was saying this wasn't one of those random trips that these guys can do any time," he said.

Mr. Lee said he hadn't contacted the State Department directly, but had called and written ambassadors and consular officials.

'Huge obstacle'
"It's not that the agencies weren't being responsive. In Moscow, Beijing and Shanghai I actually had faxes back and responses saying, 'Please give us a list of your delegates. We will look into it for you.' But it was a huge obstacle to everyone."

"The entry into the United States has become more complicated. Business people are tired of all this and all the hassle of physically passing through U.S airports. A lot of people say it is too much."

The State Department didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., speaking at the congress today, apologized for the visa hassles but said that they stem from legitimate U.S. concerns as the country re-examines its role on the world stage.

U.S. terror concerns
"I regret it was so hard for many of you to come to this country. I ask you to have a little patience with us," he said. Mr. Shays said the visa issues are an outgrowth of the U.S. concerns about terrorism.

He said that one of the "inconvenient truths" is the U.S. has been targeted by radical Islamic terrorists and has taken steps to protect itself.

"Maybe we are too focused on it for some of your members but we are trying to wrestle with our views. We are trying to sort that out," he said.
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