The United States Senate Appropriations Committee today approved language originally introduced by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to modernize the existing Visa Waiver Program (VWP), providing a path for participation from Poland and other strong U.S. Allies excluded under current law. The language was included in the Fiscal Year 2013 Homeland Security appropriations bill, which passed on a bipartisan vote of 27 to 3. The provision mirrors legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), and is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs). The legislation now goes before the full Senate for consideration.
The United States launched its visa waiver program 26 years ago in an effort to make it easier for tourists and business travelers from friendly nations to visit without a visa as long as their homeland met stringent security and law-enforcement standards.
"Despite its strong support for the United States, Poland remains one of the only major democratic U.S. allies to be excluded from the Visa Waiver Program," Senator Kirk said. "The United States should stand by its commitment to this strong democratic ally and bring Poland into the Visa Waiver Program."
"Today's action to improve the Visa Waiver Program will create and sustain American jobs. It strengthens our alliances, enhances our security, and allows millions to visit the United States and spend their money here," said Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Poland has been a steadfast and true ally. Their troops have fought alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet they cannot visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. A grandmother from Gdansk shouldn't need a visa to visit her grandkids in Baltimore. I'm proud to have fought in the Appropriations Committee to ensure that we expand this important program in a way that keeps our borders secure while allowing travelers who want nothing other than to see family, conduct business, or tour our great country to do so without going through a long and expensive process. Through this long-overdue update to the Visa Waiver Program, our State Department will be able to direct limited consular resources where they are needed most to keep our country safe and secure."
"Modernizing the Visa Waiver Program will drive tourism dollars to cities across the country, strengthen our national security and enhance relationships with important allies like Poland, who have been denied visa-free travel because of an outdated regime," Rep. Quigley said. "I applaud the Senate for including the language Senator Kirk and I worked across the aisle to create and am confident they will see its value to the nation's economy and homeland security."
"Despite being one of our most reliable allies, Poland is one of the few European countries excluded from the 36-nation VWP program," Rep. Dan Lipinski said. "Moving from the subjective visa refusal rate to the more objective overstay rate and requiring additional information sharing will allow Poland to join the VWP while ensuring U.S. national security is protected. There are more than 100,000 people of Polish ancestry in my district, and for them, this is about the ability to have family and friends attend important events like weddings and baptisms. Plus, our local economy stands to gain from increased tourism and spending. This is long overdue."
Poland, a member of the EU and NATO, also participates in the "Schengen Area," made up of 25 European nations that allow passport-free travel across borders. Poland is the only member of the 25-country Schengen area not able to travel to the United States under the VWP.
On May 28, 2011, during his inaugural visit to Poland, President Obama endorsed the VWP legislation, stating that countries willing to cooperate with the United States on global priorities deserve to become part of our VWP.
In January 2012, Senator Kirk and Congressman Quigley traveled to Poland to discuss ways to further enhance the U.S.-Polish partnership, including advancing the VWP legislation