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Will Poland Become a Visa Waiver Country?

For a year now, Congress and the President have been considering including Poland into the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) currently allows foreign nationals from the European Union, Australia, South Korea and many other countries (36 in all) to travel to the United States for business or tourism purposes without first obtaining a visitors visa at the U.S. consulate. Each country must meet certain security requirements, and each traveler is limited to a 90-day or less stay in the United States per trip. Poland is the only member of the European Union that is not included in the VWP.

Illinois Congressmen Mike Quigley and Dan Lipinski, and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk have spearheaded the effort to amend the Federal Visa Waiver law. In 2011 they introduced legislation that would allow Poland to participate in VWP, as well as Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Taiwan. Currently, Poles who want to travel to the United States must apply to the U.S. Embassy abroad for a tourist visa and convince Consulate officers that their return to Poland is guaranteed. Many visitors visas are denied. Because of the high Polish population in certain areas of the United States, conventional wisdom has suggested that with VWP, too many Poles would travel to the United States to obtain jobs here, overstaying their visas and never returning to their home country. The Polish insist the risk of visitors remaining illegally is lower than it once was because there are more jobs closer to home in the United Kingdom, Germany and elsewhere.

There is now deep concern that Mark Kirk’s stroke three weeks ago will hamper the efforts of the amendments to the VWP legislation. Kirk was a strong voice in pushing the new legislation forward. Until he returns to work, it is up to others to take up the cause for Poland. Obama, in a 2010 trip to Poland, promised Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski that Poland would be included in the Visa Waiver Program. We have yet to see that promise materialize.

The 2011 bills to make crucial additions to the Visa Waiver Program are now apparently dead. However, this month Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley has introduced a new bill, HB3855, the Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act that revives Poland’s chance to become a VWP country. Poland is one of America’s closest and most steadfast allies. Its soldiers have fought side by side with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is time we recognized the Polish people as the friends and allies they have proven to be and permit them to visit this country in the same manner we allow the English, French, Italians and other European citizens.

Obtaining a B1/B2 visa to travel to the United States for business or tourism from a non- visa waiver country can be a difficult process. Most consulates now require an application made or filed online in addition to an interview at the consulate. The application process can cost hundreds of dollars. To improve your chances of success, make sure you consult an experienced immigration attorney if you are inviting a friend or relative to visit.

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