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May 18, 2024

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Mikulski, Kirk Introduce Bipartisan
Visa Waiver Legislation For Poland

WASHINGTONU.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today introduced the Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act. Companion legislation is led by Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bipartisan bill encourages travel and tourism to the United States which creates and sustains jobs. At the same time, the bill updates the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) framework to reflect improved capabilities to track travelers entering the United States and improves annual reporting to increase oversight and transparency.  Both Senators have long been advocates for enhancing the VWP.

“Improving 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. This bill updates the Visa Waiver Program so that our State Department may direct limited consular resources where they are needed most to keep our country safe and secure.”

“I have long-believed that the United States should utilize this program to eliminate the red tape for Polish citizens wishing to visit the nearly one million Polish-American citizens in Illinois,” Senator Kirk said. “This expansion of the Visa Waiver Program will make it easier for more of our allies across Eastern Europe to travel to the United States.”

“Modernizing the Visa Waiver Program has a positive, twofold effect on both national security and economic growth for the U.S.,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Not only will we enhance our intelligence abilities, bolster relationships with important allies, like Poland, but we will create economic opportunity by increasing tourist travel to the U.S. I encourage Congress to quickly pass this legislation so that more international travelers can enjoy all the U.S. has to offer while bolstering our national security in the process.”

The Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act would require applicant countries to maintain an average non-immigrant visa overstay rate not greater than three 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 three 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.

The Mikulski-Kirk bill requires the applicant country to have a visa refusal rate not greater than three 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.

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.

Office of Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski