This Editorial was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on January 10, 2012.
Chicago could get a quick economic shot in the arm if officials in Washington sign off on the right documents. We hope that happens.
The shot in the arm would come from Polish tourists who have relatives and friends here in Chicago, home to perhaps the largest concentration of Polish people outside of Poland — an estimated 900,000 Polish nationals and Polish Americans.
Unfortunately, that tourism now is discouraged because — unlike residents of 36 other nations — visitors from Poland need a visa as well as a passport before they can come to the United States for up to 90 days. Most tourists coming to the United States live in countries that qualify for visa waivers, meaning tourists need only a passport, but much to the frustration of Poles, their nation doesn’t qualify.
“For someone who doesn’t live in a [Polish] city where there is a U.S. consulate, they have to travel a few hours to one of the bigger cities, try for a visa, stand in line and pay hundreds of dollars,” said Grazyna Zajaczkowska, immigrant services program director for the Polish American Association.
As a result, many Poles choose to travel somewhere else, she said.
Moreover, Poles are offended that they are left out of the program when their nation long has been a close ally of the United States, sending troops to fight beside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gary Kenzer, the association’s director. Poland repealed its visa requirement for U.S. travelers in 1991.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Kenzer said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) are headed to Poland to talk with officials there about snipping the red tape. And President Barack Obama last July on a trip to Warsaw said he endorses bills Kirk, Quigley and U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) have introduced that would tweak the law to benefit Poland, which is one of 12 nations nominated for visa waivers.
A 25-year-old law now nixes a nation for the visa waiver program if the U.S. State Department rejects more than 3 percent of the visa applications from its citizens. That’s a safeguard to discourage people from coming to the United States as visitors and then simply staying.
But Zajaczkowska said Poles, now that their own nation’s economy has grown stronger, no longer overstay their visas in significant numbers.
End the delay. Admit Poland into the visa waiver program.