Visa Waiver Summit At Polish Embassy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lots of Hard Work Lies Ahead. Inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) means that citizens from the included countries can travel to the U.S. without first securing a travel visa (limited legal permission) from a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad. To date, Poland has not been able to secure the coveted status despite being a staunch, dependable ally of America in every respect. Entry into the VWP has become a top priority of the Polish government in Warsaw in recent years. Poland has the full backing of President Barack Obama, but it is up to the U.S. Congress to pass the enabling legislation for Poland’s inclusion. Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf and the Polish American Congress were – and are – very proactive in lobbying both Houses of Congress regarding the VWP.
Not-So-Good-News: The 113th U.S Congress ended on December 16, 2014 and all pending legislation died with it, including that pertaining to Poland’s entry into the VWP (JOLT Act of 2013). Now the effort must be started anew. In the House of Representatives, H.R. 1354, had the backing of 166 co-sponsors (out of 435 members). A “yes” floor vote would have allowed Poland’s membership prospects to advance considerably. On the other side of the U.S. Capitol edifice Poland had the backing of the Senate Polish Caucus members and other friendly senators.
Encouraging News: The 114th Congress convened on January 3, 2015 and it will adjourn on January 3, 2017. The JOLT Act of 2015 (H.R. 1401 – “Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act of 2015”) was reintroduced in the House on March 17, 2015 and it now has 36 co-sponsors – a minimum of 218 is needed to move the Act to an up/down vote on the House floor. If eventually passed by both houses of Congress Poland will be finally be admitted into the VWP, thus ending the en masse visa denials and resulting hardships currently being visited upon the Polish people.
At the Embassy of the Republic of Poland here at 10 a.m. on April 20, 2015 Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf convoked an imperative Visa Waiver Summit, with co-Chairman General/Ambassador Edward Rowny (Ret.) – President of the American-Polish Advisory Council. Present at the hours-long meeting was 50 leaders/representatives of the multifaceted national Polish-American organizations, businessmen, politicos and news media, including Consul General Piotr Kornowrocki and 21 Honorary Consuls of Poland from across America.
The purpose of the conclave was to lay the exacting groundwork for passage of the Jolt Act starting with energizing the grass roots of Polonia and growing on to fruition in the Congress. The American-Polish Advisory Council (APAC) will coordinate these efforts. Presentations by aforementioned Counselor Lipert and Advisor Orkisz, as well as from Margaret Lawrynowicz – American Polish Forum, all exhibited an excellent and in-depth command of the situation, dispensing expert recommendations and distributed an actual blueprints portfolio of effective actions to undertake.
In Photo: Reenergized Effort for Poland Launched. Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf (center) is depicted addressing a national gathering of the various Polonia leaderships at the Polish Embassy on the critical matter of gaining Poland’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. To his right is Embassy officers First Counselor Monika Lipert – Head of the Political Section, and Artur Orkisz – Congressional Affairs Advisor. At left is General Edward Rowny (Ret.) – President of the American-Polish Advisory Council.
The resulting Visa Waiver Action Group (VWAG) was established. Polonia was encouraged to hold nation-wide focused VWAG meetings during the last week of May. It was also encouraged to use all forms of ubiquitous social media (Tweet, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in support of the issue, and by using the dedicated hashtag #VWP4PL as applicable. (Hashtag = “Visa Waiver Program for Poland.”)
The legislative ship has sailed once again. Let’s hope it reaches safe harbor in Washington with its critical JOLT cargo successfully delivered.
Poland deserves no less.
Richard P. Poremski
Polish American Journal
Washington, DC Bureau
May 7, 2015
Text & Photo by Richard Poremski