Today, at the Dyngus Day parade in Buffalo, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched his plan to make Western New York's Polish American community a priority in the comprehensive immigration reform efforts, by making Poland eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Poland is one of the only European Countries excluded from the visa program that would allow Polish citizens to travel to Western New York for leisure or business more easily. Schumer is one of several Senators leading the immigration reform discussions, and in them will fight to include the "JOLT" Act -- Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel -- that will reform outdated visa laws to cut through red tape that has caused a lag in foreign travel to the U.S.
Currently, Poland is the only member of the 25-country euro-zone area not able to travel to the United States under the US VWP, which means that all Polish nationals must apply for tourist visas before visiting the United States -- a time-consuming, uncertain, and expensive process that discourages travel to the United States. One of the most highly impacted Polish communities is in Western New York. Schumer emphasized that this reform on behalf of Polish businesses and tourists is long overdue, as Poland has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. over the past two decades on issues that include deployment of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others. As he pushed his plan to increase Polish tourism to Western New York, Schumer was joined at Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, and Polish-American Congress WNY Division Members including: President Richard Solecki, Vice-President Dina Szymanski and other board members.
"Polish pride should be part of comprehensive immigration reform, just as it is part of the fabric of Western New York. Poland is one of our top allies in Europe with strong ties to Western New York and should be included in comprehensive immigration reform talks to boost tourism between our two countries," said Schumer. "I am excited to launch a plan on Dyngus Day that will make Poland eligible for the Visa Waiver Program and expedite travel arrangements for Polish citizens to visit Buffalo. Polish soldiers have fought alongside our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and its time they are included in the Visa Waiver Program along with every other country in the euro-zone."
"As a Polish-American, I share in the frustration of many at the unnecessary and cumbersome burdens forced on travelers wishing to travel between the United States and Poland. Passage of the JOLT Act will eliminate outdated visa laws, stimulate increased business and leisure travel between the U.S. and Poland, and invigorate tourism as well. I want to thank Senator Schumer for his work on comprehensive immigration reform and for working to include this vital Act in that effort," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
"I am pleased to learn that Senator Schumer will be advancing the Polish Visa Waiver Program as part of the comprehensive immigration reform currently being considered in Congress," said Assemblyman Gabryszak. "The district I represent has a strong history of Polish heritage and tradition. Many of my constituents still have family in Poland, continued support for this effort is great news for those who may have wanted to visit, but couldn't in the past because of an outdated policy."
"The Polish American Congress has been working for over a decade to add Poland to the Visa Waiver Program. We were pleased with Senator Schumer introduced this legislation, and even more excited when we learned that he will be advancing it as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Less paperwork and fair treatment for Polish visitors will lead to more tourists coming to our great western New York Polish-American community and partaking in all our Polish-American events," said Richard Solecki, President of the Polish-American Congress WNY Division.
Currently, Poland is the only member of the 25-country euro-zone area not able to travel to the United States under the US Visa Waiver program. The Visa Waiver program gives citizens of selected countries the ability to travel to the US under the ESTA program, rather than go through the more lengthy and complicated US Tourist Visa application process. Poland has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. over the past two decades on issues that include deployment of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, willingness to serve as a forward outpost for our missile defense shield, and being a reliable voice on behalf of the trans-Atlantic partnership in European Union councils.
Schumer's effort, which he will prioritize in Comprehensive Immigration Reform, would make Poland part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and would allow citizens to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, when they meet all requirements. Travelers must be eligible to use the VWP and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa, for business, tourism, visiting or pleasure.
This JOLT Act would amends the Immigration and Nationality Act regarding the visa waiver program to: (1) authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of State, to designate program countries, like Poland; (2) adjust the criteria for visa refusal rates to permit entry into the program if a country has a low visa overstay rate, which Poland does; (3) set a maximum three percent visa overstay rate for program countries, which Poland would likely not exceed; and (4) revise probationary status and program termination provisions. It also directs the Comptroller General to review the Secretary of Homeland Security's methods for tracking aliens entering and exiting the United States and for detecting visa overstays. These revisions would likely lead to Poland's admission into the Visa Waiver Program.
While the global travel market is expected to double over the next decade, the United States' market share of this industry has declined by five percent since the 2000. The JOLT Act is aimed at reversing that trend and recapturing the United States' historic share of worldwide overseas travel, which could add nearly $100 billion to the economy over the next decade and create nearly 700,000 more American jobs. If Poland gained entry to VWP and saw a similar increase, the additional visitors to the United States would create $181 million in new spending and support 1,500 new jobs.