After many years of concerted efforts, including letters to members of congress, bilateral talks and rallies, Poland has joined the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
As of Nov. 11, Polish citizens can come to the United States without having to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy, a costly and time-consuming process. Polish-Americans are happy their relatives from the homeland can now visit them with less hassle.
“This is a Polish-American success! See you in the United States,” said U.S. ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, who used to say that including Poland in the VWP was her priority since the beginning of her appointment. “Poland and the United States are not only allies but closest friends and together we have accomplished historical things,” she said.
Supporters of Poland’s entry in the VWP have for years highlighted the fact that Poland cooperates with the U.S. in terms of security, and has been a faithful ally, fighting alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for that its citizens deserve to be granted visa-free entry into the country. Polish organizations in both the U.S. and Poland argued that waiving the visa requirement would mean increased tourism from Poland, which would strengthen the U.S. economy.
For years, however, Poland’s entry in the VWP was made impossible by regulations that excluded countries with visa denials exceeding 3 percent. Now Poland has finally met the requirement.
Poland is now the 24th European Union country to be admitted in the VWP. Still outside of the privileged group are Cyprus, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. Poland’s entry in the VWP means Polish citizens can now travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days for tourists or business purposes. This is good news for many Polish-Americans who have relatives in Poland. Nowy Dziennik spoke to a group of Poles returning to the U.S. from the South-Eastern region of Poland, where thousands of Poles have immigrated to America from.
“There are important family events like weddings, christenings, first communion and more, where whole families need to be together. So many times relatives have not been able to join us because they didn’t get a visa,” said Zofia Przywara from New Jersey.
“In my opinion everyone who wants to should be able to travel to the United States. I am extremely happy that my relatives from Poland will now be able to visit us in the U.S.,” says U.S.-born Wiktora, whose parents Barbara and Stanisław immigrated from Nowa Dęba to New Jersey 30 years ago, but travel back each year to spend time with extended family.
But the visa waiver does not mean travelers from Poland are able to cross the boarder as if it didn’t exist at all. Instead of obtaining a visa at the U.S. consulate or embassy, Polish citizens who are planning a tourist or business trip to the U.S. for up to 90 days now must fill out an application in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
An approved ESTA application is still not a guarantee of admission to the country.
“It is possible that the individual may not be admitted at the border. Whether with a visa or ESTA, it is up to the Customs and Border Protection officer to make the final decision,” said Karolina Orton, deputy consul at the U.S. embassy in Poland.
Individuals with prior arrest records, traffic offenses, unpaid traffic tickets, those who had previously overstayed their visas or been deported are most likely to encounter problems at the border. People in this group need to go through the regular process of applying for a visa.
“Some people have no idea what the new regulations entail. A good friend of mine has lived in the United States with no valid immigration status for over 20 years now. When news of potential visa waiver for Poles hit the media he started planning a trip to Poland. He thinks he will be able to travel freely back and forth like in the European Union, with no questions asked at the border. I am worried he is up for an unpleasant surprise,” says Paulina from Brooklyn.