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Senator Mikulski announces Senate-passed Immigration Reform Bill with her legislation to admit Poland into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

28 czerwca, 2013

Senator Mikulski announces Senate-passed Immigration Reform Bill with her legislation to admit Poland into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
Ambassador Schnepf and Senator Mikulski

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Poland, today announced the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity,and Immigration Modernization Act - immigration reform bill - includes her legislation to admit Poland into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Senator Mikulski’s bipartisan provision, which was originally introduced with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act, encourages travel and tourism to the United States which creates and sustains jobs. At the same time, the provision updates the VWP framework to reflect improved capabilities to track travelers entering the United States and improves annual reporting to increase oversight and transparency. 

“Today’s action to improve the Visa Waiver Program will create and sustain American jobs. It strengthens our alliances, enhances our security, and allows millions to visit the United States and spend their money here,” Senator Mikulski said. “A grandmother from Gdansk shouldn’t need a visa to visit her grandkids in Baltimore. I’ve fought for years to ensure that we expand this important program in a way that keeps our borders secure while allowing travelers who want nothing other than to see family, conduct business, or tour our great country to do so without going through a long and expensive process. With today’s action to update the Visa Waiver Program, the State Department can direct limited consular resources where they are needed most to keep our country safe and secure.” 

The Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform provision would require applicant countries to maintain an average non-immigrant visa overstay rate not greater than 3 percent while giving the Secretary of Homeland Security flexibility to waive this requirement in cases where a country’s participation does not pose a threat to law enforcement, security, or immigration laws under the condition that the applicant country is cooperating fully with the U.S. in fighting terrorism.  It would authorize the Secretary to place a member country on probation if their overstay rate exceeds 3 percent, sending a strong message to current program members that the United States is serious about ensuring the VWP is a strong component of our security. 

Senator Mikulski has long been an advocate for enhancing the VWP. The Mikulski-Kirk legislation requires the applicant country to have a visa refusal rate not greater than 3 percent at the time of application into the VWP to ensure a mutual exchange with the United States. It authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to include countries into the program if they meet all United States security standards and have a refusal rate below 10 percent, based on the total number of individual applicants. The legislation also directs the Comptroller General to review the Department of Homeland Security’s methods detecting visa overstays. 

President Obama publically endorsed the expansion of the VWP in an effort to strengthen America’s tourism economy by creating and sustaining jobs. He reaffirmed his support during a trip to Poland [View President Obama’s Letter]. The bill has the support of the US Travel Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the National Retail Federation. 

Currently, citizens of 37 nations around the world are eligible to participate in the VWP, which allows foreign visitors to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.  Outdated requirements exclude Poland, a strong democratic ally, from the VWP despite allowing U.S. tourists to travel visa-free since 1991.