Who was President of the Continental Congress? In what city did the United States declare independence? These are a few of the trivia questions Argentine citizens answered on July 4, 2011, during a celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. This event was not just a traditional Independence Day gathering, however. On a day when many Americans were relaxing by the pool or grilling hot dogs, we opened our doors to Argentines wishing to travel to the United States. Argentina has become one of the top ten visa issuing posts in the world, and the Fourth of July working day highlighted our efforts to address growing visa demand, which has increased by 150 percent since January 2010.
Argentine tourists contribute to the U.S. economy in the business, tourism, and trade sectors. Despite having a population of only 41 million people, Argentina ranked 13th in the number of nationals who visited the United States last year, and Argentines are one of the largest groups of foreign visitors to Disney World.
The "Visa Festival" broke tradition from the usual U.S. Independence Day reception held at the Ambassador's residence. Both Ambassador Vilma S. Martinez and Deputy Chief of Mission Jefferson Brown participated by fingerprinting applicants and welcoming them to the event. More than 70 other employees volunteered their time. In total, we interviewed 1,100 people for visas -- a single-day record for the embassy.
Despite the productive atmosphere, the day did not lack celebration. The embassy walkway was lined with flags, while the inside was decorated in patriotic banners, stars, and balloons. We awarded more than 250 prizes for those participating in July 4th-related trivia contests, and attendees enjoyed food, cake, and refreshments while a jazz band played Dixieland favorites.
The "Visa Festival" was a tremendous success. We enjoyed assisting Argentine citizens with their future visits to the United States. We hope the festivities provided unique insight into U.S. culture and history, serving to further strengthen ties between our two countries.