WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today led a successful effort to include bipartisan legislation allowing Polish citizens visa-free travel to the U.S. in the fiscal year 2016 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill. The Appropriations Committee approved in a voice vote Senator Kirk’s amendment, which would allow DHS to include Poland in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
“With nearly one million Illinois residents with Polish ancestry, our doors should be open to Polish citizens who want to visit our state,” Senator Kirk said. “The Kirk-Mikulski amendment brings us closer to eliminating unnecessary red tape for Polish visitors and treating Poland the same way we treat our other democratic allies.”
Senator Kirk has also introduced S.1507, bipartisan legislation with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) earlier this month. The amendment would give the secretary of DHS the discretion to include Poland and other allies in the VWP, allowing their citizens up to 90 days of visa-free travel to the United States, if they meet certain requirements. Currently 38 countries, including 30 in Europe, are part of the VWP, but outdated requirements exclude Poland, a key democratic ally.
According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), direct spending in the United States from visiting travelers totaled $888 billion in 2013 and helped employ 7.9 million Americans. The VWP was responsible for more than 19.5 million travelers who visited the United States in 2013. An average overseas visitor will spend $4,300 in the U.S. per trip. Expanding the VWP to include Poland would boost tourism to Chicago, the home of more citizens of Polish descent than any city in the world outside Warsaw.
Senator Kirk has long been a staunch supporter of Poland and advocate for U.S.-Polish relations. He was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in 2012. Senator Kirk has worked toward passing legislation to expand the VWP to include Poland and has fought to strengthen U.S.-Polish cooperation on ballistic missile defense.
The fiscal year 2016 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act was approved by the Appropriations Committee by a bipartisan vote of 26 to 4 and now heads to the Senate floor.