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  • Time to Admit Poland into the Visa Waiver Program

    Senator Mark Kirk (R–IL) and Congressman Mike Quigley (R–IL) returned from a four-day trip to Poland this week. The bipartisan pair made the journey to discuss an important topic in U.S.–Polish relations: admitting Poland into the Visa Waiver Program.

    Under the Visa Waiver Program, visitors from friendly member nations are able to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. To ensure that dangerous individuals do not enter the United States through the program, a visitor must first submit information through the program’s online portal, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Once vetted and cleared, a traveler is then pre-approved for visa-free travel for up to two years.

    Since its inception in 1986, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has reduced the workload on U.S. consulate offices while encouraging travel to and tourism in the United States. The program also offers tremendous benefits in terms of economics, public diplomacy, and national security. In 2008 alone, nearly 17 million visitors entered the United States, spending more than $100 billion in U.S. restaurants, hotels, and shops. These visitors not only infuse much-needed money into the U.S. economy, but they also carry home with them their experiences and perceptions of American culture, helping to improve America’s image throughout the world. Likewise, security measures added since the program’s inception have made it an important counterterrorism tool.

    In 2010, more than 152,000 non-immigrant visitors entered the United States from Poland. Yet despite that country’s longstanding interest in joining the Visa Waiver Program, these visitors were made to apply for visas before coming to the United States. Given the extensive benefits of the VWP and the long record of U.S.–Polish cooperation, Poland’s exclusion from the program doesn’t make sense.

    Unfortunately, neither does the measure that is holding back Poland’s admittance. In 2007, Congress passed legislation granting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the ability to consider the admittance of nations with visa refusal rates between 3 percent and 10 percent that otherwise met the requirements of the program. The conditions of this authority, however, centered on the ability of DHS to meet a mandate of biometrically tracking the exits of all foreign visitors from U.S. airports by July 1, 2009. Despite the fact that biometric air exit has little to do with the VWP (only roughly 1 percent of VWP entrants are believed to overstay) and adds little in terms of national security, when DHS failed to meet the mandate, its ability to waive the 3 percent visa refusal rate expired.

    Poland has signed all of the necessary security and travel agreements needed to gain admittance into the program. The only thing holding it back now is its 9.8 percent visa refusal rate. Instead of holding VWP expansion hostage to ridiculous mandates, Congress should decouple the biometric exit mandate from the program. Likewise, Congress and the Administration should move to use visa overstay rates, rather than visa refusal rates, as a metric for admittance into the program. With Poland’s overstay rate at around 2 percent in 2010 (incredibly low compared to the total visa overstay rate of approximately 40 percent), this change would advance the country’s admittance and would serve as a better overall metric for the program.

    Representatives Kirk and Quigley’s visit to Poland should serve as a reminder to the rest of Congress that it is well past time to do better for our ally and admit Poland into the VWP.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to Time to Admit Poland into the Visa Waiver Program

    1. well says:

      I find current visa waiver criteria to be ridiculous. It's like me telling my son: I won't give you the lollipop because I didn't give you one last week

    2. slater says:

      Great article! I am in complete agreement to admit Poland into the VWP.Other than the British, Poland is our biggest ally on the war against terror. Many other eastern European countries with lower GDP's than Poland are now able to travel freely to and from the US. I have been to the consulate and embassy in Poland. Some people pay nearly a months salary, take time off work and travel to the US consulate in Krakow or embassy in Warsaw just to apply for a visa. I have seen many people young and old denied for no good reason. Making the entire effort a total waste. Its time the Obama administration fast tracts this no brainer scenario.

    3. steve says:

      I have a friend who was an outstanding and awarded student who had no intention of staying over in the US but she was twice denied for a visa. Worse, the embassy staff who interview people are sometimes dismissive and insulting. For a young woman who had so much pride in her educational accomplishments is was really an insult to be told she was being denied a visa for tourism because the interviewer felt she was intending to be an illegal immigrant worker.

      We really need to make this change as soon as possible.

    4. Dominika says:

      I have been trying to re-connect with my mom from Poland ( have not seen her in 20 years) and she has spent a lot of money and time to apply for a visitor visa and they have denied her. So frustrating since I live in a state that has millions of illegal immigrants. We are doing everything right by law and yet still refused. Let Polish people in Obama!

    5. Jon says:

      The article incorrectly lists Congressman Mike Quigley as "(R–IL)" when he is a Democrat. But yes, agreed, Poland should be admitted, and admission should be based off overstay rates or at least a combination of overstay and refusal rates.

    6. Anna says:

      Guys,
      Poland cannot get visa waiver because they will come here like crazy,alot of them are criminals and high alcohol drinking people,they come here illegaly,stay illegally did criminal violations and run back to Poland.This will be the worsest plan in USA history.

    7. Tomasz says:

      Anna – hahaha – "the worsest" – is this the American English?

      First of all, more and more people here just ignore the US and say they will never go there as tourists as long as this situation lasts. The US attitude is: Hey, Poles, would you like a ticket to Iraq or Afghanistan? Please, go and help us. Would you like to come and see, say – the Grand Canyon, or New Your? – Well, no, sorry."
      The thing is that the money can be spent in other places all over the world, not necessarily in the US. Plus.. some people still think that US is like HEAVEN… We can travel, work etc. -LEGALLY in Europe – which is much better in all the aspects. So , wake up… especially , that the current situation results in the growing anti-American trends here too. So, one day US may wake up with NO ALLY in Europe at all.:-))
      And again – ANNE – I wish you the "bestest" day in the country where there is no crime, no alcohol drinking, and everyone looks and behaves like the people in "Wisteria Lane" – hahahah

    8. Ferdinand K says:

      The US state department was always slow in understanding world changes . they still believe the whole world wants to go to the US and stay there . Their Visa application process in humiliating , archaic and frankly quite ridicules . I would recommend all people to simply not go there , there are endless alternatives in the world .
      The business people just need to take their money elsewhere instead of going through humiliation. the tourists need to find better choices, and the students – well – the US education being what it is – I do not even know what they have to look for there .The US is already lagging behind the world in tourism growth because of their visa program.

    9. Alex says:

      Poland should enforce similar restrictions on americans who want to go there

    10. Jaroslaw Mokrzycki says:

      Kosciuszko was -Polish,Pulawski-Polish to! Free visa for Polish people to USA! Amen!

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