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Passage of Homeland Security Legislation
Includes Visa Waiver Legislation

MikulskiatpodiumWASHINGTON, DC (June 26, 2014) – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today announced Committee passage of the fiscal year (FY) 2015 Homeland Security spending bill. The legislation includes language to modernize the existing Visa Waiver Program (VWP), providing a path for participation from Poland and other strong U.S. Allies excluded under current law. The provision mirrors the Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act, which was introduced earlier this Congress by Senators Mikulski and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), as well as companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs).

“Today’s action to improve 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,” said Senator Mikulski, Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Poland. “Poland has been a steadfast and true ally. A grandmother from Gdansk shouldn’t need a visa to visit her grandkids in Baltimore. I’ll continue to fight 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.”

The Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform provision would require applicant countries to maintain an average non-immigrant visa overstay rate not greater than 3 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.

Senator Mikulski has long been an advocate for enhancing the VWP. The Mikulski-Kirk legislation 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.

President Obama publically endorsed the expansion of the VWP in an effort to strengthen America’s tourism economy by creating and sustaining jobs. He reaffirmed his support during a trip to Poland [View President Obama’s Letter]. The bill has the support of the US Travel Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the National Retail Federation.

Currently, citizens of 38 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.

In the next step of the appropriations process, the bill will move to the Senate floor for a vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

– Office of Senator Mikulski