Visa Waiver Legislation Passes Senate

To Members and Friends of the Polish American Congress and of the Polish American Community:

PAC Washington D.C., March 14 - Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 60 to 38, the bill S. 4 – "Improving America's Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007."

This is very important legislation for the American Polonia as the bill includes a provision that would allow Poland to become a pilot country in the Visa Waiver Program.

There was almost no discussion on the provision, except for an amendment offered by Senator Diane Feinstein (S. Amdt. 275) in which she proposed that the country's participation be conditioned on the rates of refusal rate (less than 10 percent)and overstays. (For details please see the announcements issued by the Offices of Senators Voinovich and Mikulski. For your convenience we included their full texts at the end of this Release.)

During the last weeks, the Polish American Congress has been asking its members and friends to contact their Senators and urge them to vote in favor of this legislation and to retain the important provision in the text of S.4. We take this occasion to thank all those individuals who have joined in support of this legislation. However, even though success is near, it is not the end of Polonia's efforts to ensure that the legislation is signed into the law.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an equivalent bill (H.R. 1) very early in the session - on January 9, 2007. However, since the House version of the bill is significantly different from the Senate bill--for example it does not include the VWP provision--selected members of the U.S. Congress from both houses will have to meet in a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two bills.

Neither date nor composition of the committee are known as yet. As soon as the list of participants, both in the House and in the Senate, becomes available, the Polish American Congress will instantly issue an action alert and request your assistance.

For us, the Polish Americans, it will be another important opportunity to ensure that the VWP provision is not removed from the legislation. Members and Friends of the Polish American community will need to again raise their voices in support of this important legislation.
 

From the Office of Sen. George Voinovitch (R-OH)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contacts: Chris Paulitz or Garrette Silverman
(202) 224-7784

March 13, 2007

SEN. VOINOVICH’S VISA WAIVER LEGISLATION PASSES SENATE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the full Senate voted for passage of S. 4, the Improving America's Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The bill includes an amendment authored by U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) that extends visa-free travel privileges to our allies in the Global War on Terror. The amendment, called the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2007, will improve cooperation with key allies while strengthening U.S. national security interests and promoting U.S. economic competitiveness. The bill was passed by a vote of 60 to 38.

“This is wonderful news for the Unites States and its allies,” Sen. Voinovich said. “I strongly believe we must maintain strong relations with our friends who are helping us fight the Global War on Terror. This legislation will improve both our national and economic security while helping to solidify relationships and improve good will toward the United States for years to come.”

Sen. Voinovich’s amendment authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of State, to expand the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to countries that support the United States and are prepared to do everything in their power to help keep terrorists from crossing our borders. Countries would be eligible to participate in the program only after the executive branch certifies that they do not pose a security or law enforcement threat to the United States.

The legislation would make the travel security standards and passport policies safer than they would otherwise be for participating countries. Security requirements for participation include biometric passports, strict passenger screening through an e-travel authorization system, passenger information exchanges, strict reporting of lost or stolen passports, airport and baggage security and agreements for home country repatriation of any visitors who violate U.S. laws. The provision will also require the Department of Homeland Security to monitor when VWP participants exit the country and improve procedures for measuring any potential overstays, to ensure compliance with the program.

“Our current visa policy is discouraging hundreds of thousands of peaceful and well-meaning people from visiting the United States for business and pleasure,” Sen. Voinovich said. “By severely limiting legitimate travel to the United States, we are dampening international good will and losing economic opportunities totaling millions of dollars.

“In addition to promoting U.S. national security interests, this legislation will increase business ties and tourism, benefiting our economy and competitiveness for years to come. This is a smart move that will advance America’s strategic interests.”

The VWP was established in 1986 to improve relations with U.S. allies and benefit the U.S. economy. The program permits nationals from selected countries to enter the United States for tourism or business without a visa for up to 90 days. Currently, 27 countries participate in the program.

Although numerous countries have expressed a desire to participate in the VWP, and a willingness to cooperate with the necessary security requirements, no new countries have been admitted since 1999. President Bush recently called on Congress to expand the VWP to deserving nations and has previously identified 13 “Road Map” countries as potential candidates for future participation. These include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and South Korea.
 


From the Office of Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 13, 2007

CONTACT: Melissa Schwartz
202-228-1122

MIKULSKI SAYS SENATE PASSAGE OF VISA WAIVER PROGRAM EASES PATH FOR POLAND

"The United States is blessed with few allies as stalwart as Poland."

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today applauded the Senate's passage of the Improving America's Security Act of 2007 (S.4), which includes her proposal with Senator George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) that would authorize an expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

"I have fought for years to expand the VWP so our allies can visit family and conduct business in the United States without standing in line to get a visa," said Senator Mikulski. "We know that our borders will be no less secure because of these visitors. But we know that our alliances will be more secure because of this legislation."

As a condition for program participation, all participants would implement enhanced travel security requirements, negotiate new agreements on counterterrorism cooperation, and demonstrate their close cooperation with the United States in the Global War on Terror.

The bill also includes an amendment by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that stipulates that countries applying to the VWP must either have a visa refusal rate below 10 percent (up from the current requirement of 3 percent) or their rate of visitors overstaying their visit must be below the cap that would be set by the Departments of Homeland Security and State. A visa refusal rate refers to the percentage of applicants refused visas. Poland's visa refusal rate has been an obstacle for its inclusion, but the overstay rate proposal offers a new alternative for inclusion.

Senator Mikulski has fought - and introduced several bipartisan proposals - to have Poland added to the VWP, citing Poland's importance as a close U.S. ally. Polish troops have been fighting alongside American troops since the start of the War in Iraq, with nearly 1,000 Polish troops still on the ground.

"The United States is blessed with few allies as stalwart as Poland. But we tell a grandmother in Gdansk she needs a visa to visit her grandchildren in America," said Senator Mikulski. "Poland is a NATO ally and a member of the European Union. But America's visa policy still treats Poland as a second-class citizen."

The VWP was established in 1986 as a pilot program to promote better relations with U.S. allies. Currently, 27 countries participate in the VWP. Statutory requirements for program participation include criteria concerning immigration patterns, security and law enforcement, reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens, as well as passports that are machine-readable.

 
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