Perspective -- No More Visas Required for Poles Soon? But Do They Care? (5/13)     Print Email

By Inga Czerny, U.S. Correspondent  for the Polish News Agency

inga czerny- 5The ongoing reform of the U.S. immigration laws opens the chance to resolve an issue, which for 20 years has divided Poland and the U.S.--  the tourist visa requirement for Poles traveling to U.S. Yes, Poland, once described by French diplomats as the U.S. Trojan horse in the EU, is one of only three EU countries (together with Romania and Bulgaria) that still are not a part of  the Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreign tourists to visit the U.S. without  a visa in advance.  Why is that? Because the percentage of Poles who are denied visas or who remain in the U.S. for longer than their visas allow, exceeds the rigid legal limit of 3 percent.

It made no difference that Poland sent its soldiers to the Iraq war, for which Warsaw was severely criticized by some European partners. It made no difference  that Poland has one of the largest NATO contingents in Afghanistan or finally that Poland expresses an immediate readiness for the American missile defense shield on its territory.   Even the very Poland- friendly congressmen from the states with many Polish Americans couldn’t push that issue forward. They have proposed over the  years bills that would allow Poland to join the VWP, but none of these efforts has resulted in a serious agenda item  of the appropriate committees.

Now, at last there is an opportunity to have it done through the immigration reform. Few would notice that in the 867-pages giant bipartisan bill there are some paragraphs that would allow Poland (and a few other countries) to join the list of nations whose citizens can travel to the U.S. as tourists without visas.  Even though in the past advocates of extending VWP to Poland had nothing to do with immigration, advocates  argue now that abolishing the visa requirements would result in thousands of new tourists who would spend millions of dollars each year in the U.S.

Even if these provisions receive the support of Congress (which is far from sure) and President Obama signs the bill as he promised, the approval  will be of lesser significance for Poland that if it had come years ago.  Now, many will see it as “too late.”  . Of course it would be a success of the Polish diplomacy, especially of the current ambassador in Washington Ryszard Schnepf. But European countries  have become the main travel destination for Poles for a very long time now. Every year wealthier Poles explore Europe as tourists but also profit from the possibility to freely work in any of European states. It is more convenient to go to work to the United Kingdom or neighboring Germany, where the standard of life is by no means lower that in the United States. And in contrast to the U.S. you can just in few hours go back home to Poland.

Various surveys indicate the decrease of the very high pro-American sentiment in Poland. Keeping the visa requirements played a role. Many Poles, known for their national pride, find the application procedures and 130-dollar visa fee quite insulting. That is why many Poles, including the author of this blog, have  delayed  their exploration of America. Getting rid of the visa requirements will make travelling easier and will be welcome.   But it is doubtful that Poles will open serious champagne once the deal is done.

Inga Czerny recently came to Washington with the Polish News Agency. She is a member of the Editorial Board of European Affairs.