When Bill Gates applied for a visa for a recent trip to Nigeria, his paperwork hit a snag. The Nigerian government required proof that the billionaire chairman of Microsoft would not stay in the country and become a drain on Nigeria's social services. The company helping him with his application, travel document expediter CIBT, obtained a letter from Gates' bank that reassured the Nigerian authorities, and the visa was approved.
More than 200 U.S. companies profit from helping travelers navigate the maze of documents they need to obtain visas and passports, according to Robert Smith, executive director of the National Association of Passport & Visa Services, the industry's trade group. While there isn't research available on the size of the passport and visa expediting services industry, Smith estimates it's a $150 million business in the U.S. alone. And as countries tighten their borders because of concerns about security and immigration, he expects that the market for such services will only expand.