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Kirk, Quigley Push for Unrestricted Travel from Poland

Call on Congress to grant Poland the same privileges as 30 of its European Neighbors

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013
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CHICAGO - U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.-5) today called for the passage of legislation that would allow Polish citizens unrestricted travel to the United States for up to 90 days without requiring a visa.

As part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), 37 countries, including 30 European countries, are currently eligible for visa-free travel to the United States; but outdated requirements leave Poland as one of the few European nations still excluded from VWP. The Polish government repealed its visa requirement for U.S. citizens traveling to Poland in 1991.

According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), in 2010, 65% of visitors from overseas were from VWP countries. While here, they spent nearly $61 billion, and generated $9 billion in tax revenue. In recent years, Poland's GDP increased nearly 10-fold, from $64.5 billion USD in 1990, to $514.5 billion USD in 2011. The Czech Republic entered the Visa Waiver Program in 2008, and saw its temporary visitor traffic to the U.S. jump from 42,923 in 2007 to 50,276 - an increase of 17.13 percent in one year. The Czech Republic's GDP is 217 billion U.S. dollars - less than half of Poland's GDP.

If Poland had a similar increase in traffic, it would result in an additional 11,390 visitors a year. According to the U.S. Travel Association, an average overseas visitor will spend $4,300 in the U.S. per trip. With a 17 percent increase in travel to the U.S. from Poland, nearly $50 million in additional spending would occur a year.

Chicago is home to nearly one million citizens of Polish ancestry, the highest concentration of any city outside of Warsaw. In 2012, more than 67,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued in Poland to the United States.

“Chicago is home to one of the largest, most vibrant Polish communities in the world,” Senator Kirk said. “Allowing Polish citizens visa-free travel will not only provide valuable tourism revenue as they come to visit friends and family in Illinois, but it will also serve to further strengthen our critical and longstanding diplomatic relationship with Poland.”

“It’s time to update America’s visa travel protocol to increase opportunities for international tourists, create jobs, and drive valuable tourism dollars to cities across the country, including Chicago," Representative Quigley said. "Modernizing the Visa Waiver Program will strengthen our national security and enhance relationships with important allies like Poland, who have been frozen out of the VWP due to its outdated structure.”

Senator Kirk and Congressman Quigley are both sponsors of the Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act, which: opens the door for Poland’s inclusion in the VWP by updating participation requirements; enhances national security by encouraging information sharing between the U.S. and member countries and requiring the timely reporting of lost or stolen passports; and requires participants to maintain enhanced counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.

The Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act has been formally endorsed by President Obama and has the support of the U.S. Travel Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Hotel and Lodging Association, and National Retail Federation.

This bicameral, bipartisan legislation recently passed out of the Senate as part of the immigration reform bill. The legislation was also included in the Fiscal Year 2014 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations committee last month.

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