by Julia Benbenek
How will Poland’s entry into the VWP affect the travel of Polish nationals to the United States?
On October 4th, 2019, President Trump announced that the Department of State has formally nominated Poland for entry into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). There is an additional administrative process that requires the Department of Homeland Security to finalize Poland’s entry. The U.S. Embassy expects this process to take approximately three to five months. Upon finalization, the Secretary of Homeland Security will announce the date on which visa-free travel will commence.
Under the current rules, Polish nationals must first pay a visa fee, complete the DS-160 form, schedule a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy, and wait for an approval. Upon approval, visitors are typically allowed to stay in the U.S. for six months at a time. However, The VWP will allow Polish nationals to travel to the U.S. for business and tourism for up to 90 days visa-free. To be eligible, Polish citizens must first obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA.) An ESTA currently costs $14 and is valid for up to two years. Additionally, the Polish citizen must be traveling on a passport with an embedded computer chip.
Typically, if a Polish citizen wishes to travel for over 90 days or engage in activities such as work or study, they must apply for an appropriate category of visa. However, there are also two options for extending one’s VWP. The first option is for emergencies; if a Polish national in the U.S. is hospitalized, experiences inclement weather or a catastrophic event that cancels a flight, or there are airport strikes, they may apply for Satisfactory Departure and overstay the 90 days. The second option requires that the visitor has immediate relatives in the U.S. who are U.S. citizens. In this case, the visitor may apply for adjustment of status (AOS) to permanent residence (green card).
Poland has been pushing to be included in the VWP for years, and the Polish American Congress has rallied behind this goal since 2003. The nomination signals the strengthening of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Poland. In a press release, the White House stated the move is an, “important step in continuing to increase economic, security, cultural, and people-to-people connections between our two nations.”