U.S. Vice President Pence says Poland Almost Ready to Join Visa Waiver Program

Published on: Sep 08, 2019, Last Edited: Sep 08, 2019 | Tags: ESTA Eligibility, Visa Waiver Program

Introduction

Polish citizens wishing to travel to the United States are not currently eligible to apply for an ESTA visa waiver, but this could soon be set to change. Last week U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, visiting Poland to commemorate the outbreak of WWll 80 years ago, said on Monday that he was delighted that the country was close to being able to join the USA Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The Visa Waiver Program is a USA immigration system that permits citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business or leisure for up to 90 days without needing to apply for a visa. Travellers must apply online for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) in advance of their trip and their travel must be permitted on a category B visa.

How does a country join the Visa Waiver Program?

Countries that join the VWP must meet very stringent conditions. They must be economically developed with high levels of average income, rate highly on the human development index and must implement stringent border control and counter-terrorism measures.

Another factor that affects how a country is chosen to join the VWP is the percentage of applicants who are refused visas every year. This gives an indication of how serious their citizens are about complying with the terms of the VWP. The percentage of citizens from the country who overstay their visa is also taken into account.

Currently, 38 countries are participating in the Visa Waiver Program. People of Polish descent are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in the United States with more than 10 million currently residing there. Polish citizens currently need a visa to visit the United States but there are positive signs that this situation could be about to change.

Geopolitical and financial considerations: a complex situation

Although President Trump had been scheduled to visit Poland himself, Hurricane Dorian was forecast to hit the Florida coast so Vice President Mike Pence made the visit in his place. Responding to a question from a Polish journalist concerning the Visa Waiver Program, described as a symbol of negativity in the relationship between Poland and the US, Pence remarked that Poland is nearing eligibility to join the program. Specifically, he referred to the country's being on track to achieving fewer than 3% of visa applications being denied.

He expressed a hope that the Secretary of State would be able to nominate Poland for the program by the end of the month - this was not only for the legal reasons but also as an opportunity to reinforce the close bonds between the US and Poland. He sees enabling Polish citizens to travel to the States without having to apply for a visa as being a reflection of the amicable and mutually supportive relationship between the two nations.

The United States maintains warm bilateral relations with Poland, seeing the country as a crucial ally in maintaining the balance of power with regard to Russia. While human rights groups have been critical of President Duda’s attempts to undermine the freedom of press and judiciary, the United States has continued to strengthen its intelligence sharing with Poland and its military presence in the country.

President Trump does not appear to see Russia's President Putin as a threat, despite the country's aggression in the Ukraine and Crimea, since he recently requested that Russia be readmitted to the G7. He often seems to regard bolstering relations with Poland as a way of hitting at other European countries rather than as simply creating a bulwark against Russian expansionism. Trump’s relationship with Germany’s leader Angela Merkel has always been strained and his authoritarian rhetoric has much in common both with President Duda of Poland and with Putin.

Vice President Pence commented that Poland is one of the 7 NATO members to meet the defence spending commitment to spend 2% of GDP. The US military presence is set to rise over the next year from 4500 to 5500 and Poland has recently purchased US helicopters and 20 mobile rocket launchers. These remarks also imply criticism of other European countries, notably Germany, which President Trump has often criticised for not making a fair financial contribution to NATO spending.

Poland’s energy policy is also key. Germany and many other EU countries are set to be supplied with Russia’s natural gas via the Nord Stream 2 undersea pipeline, due to come on stream at the end of the year. However, the United States is looking to increase sales of its LNG (liquid natural gas) as well as loosening Poland's ties with Russia. Pence noted the joint energy programs recently signed by US companies with Poland, supplying the country with liquid gas from the US.

Pence finished the Q & A session by remarking that the alliance between the US and Poland has never been stronger and that participating in the VWP is now just weeks away.

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