Add Poland to the visa waiver program

I wrote here about the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) under which citizens of participating foreign countries can enter the U.S. without a visa for 90 days. Surprisingly, Poland is not allowed to participate in the VWP.

Poland is a great ally of the United States. Polish troops have fought alongside ours in Iraq and Afghanistan (where at least 40 have been killed and many more have been wounded). And Poland is an important member of NATO, all the more so now that Putin’s Russia has made its expansionist designs clear.

Many Poles have relatives in the U.S. For this reason, as well as for reasons of simple affinity, many Poles would like to visit our country.

But Poles do not like to stand in lines. Their particular aversion to doing so has roots in the long lines Poles were required to endure on a regular basis during the days of Communism. Thus, the prospect of standing in line to obtain a visa with which to enter the U.S. is a deterrent to traveling here, especially since Poles know that Czechs and Hungarians do not need visas, thanks to the VWP.

Why doesn’t Poland have the same standing? Apparently, it’s because of the rate at which visas have been denied to Poles. Under the VWP, eligibility for participation requires a visa denial rate of less than 3 percent. Poland does not meet this requirement.

Why? Apparently because a goodly percentage of Poles who seek visas do so after completing their university studies. At that point in their life, the U.S. believes the risk that they will overstay their visa is unacceptably high. Accordingly, many of them are denied visas.

But the Polish economy is quite strong. Thus, the assumption that university graduates will not return to Poland after visiting the U.S. is dubious.

In any event, there is no reason to rely on assumptions one way or the other. Data exists regarding the rate at which citizens of various countries overstay their visas. (I understand that the rate for Poland is not high).

Accordingly, it makes little sense to use visa denial rates as a basis for inferring the risk of visa overstays. Why not rely on the overstay data?

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced that would pave the way for adding Poland to the VWP by using overstay rates as a criterion. The legislation would also pave the way for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Taiwan.

If the VWP is to be retained — and the arguments for retaining it are strong — the program should be made more rational by using visa overstay rates as a criterion for eligibility.

Frankly, it’s insulting to one of closest allies, and embarrassing to the United States, that Poland is not permitted to participate in the VWP.

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