There are currently 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Poland, a long-standing friend to the U.S. and destination point for President Obama last week, is not one of them.
The VWP allows visitors from designated countries to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days, whether it’s for tourism or business. A country’s eligibility for the VWP is determined by its non-immigrant visa refusal rate, issuance of machine-readable passports, potential for threats to U.S. security interests, ability to share security information, and ability to provide adequate airport and security efforts. A country’s visa refusal rate must be below 3 percent.
Of the countries currently in the VWP, more than half currently have a visa refusal rate higher than Poland’s in fiscal year 2013 (only 14 of the 38 do not). The average refusal rate for nationalities trying to enter the U.S. is approximately 25 percent. Poland’s is 10.8 percent. Only two VWP countries (San Marino and Chile) are under the 3 percent mandate.
Consider two other countries in the VWP: Japan (10.9 percent refusal rate) and Russia (10.2 percent). Japan has been a peace treaty ally with the U.S. for over 60 years now, while Russia’s actions of late show it to be a destabilizing actor in the region. Perhaps there are other methods of evaluating whether a country is eligible to join the VWP.
Over the past seven years, Poland has had non-stop growth in the Index of Economic Freedom. Not only has Poland grown freer by increasing its fiscal and trade freedoms; it has also naturally increased its economic output—meaning Poles have more money to spend.
Allowing Poland and other U.S. friends and allies to join the VWP would not only be a boost to the public diplomacy between the U.S. and Poland—U.S. favorability in Poland has been falling the past few years—but would also increase revenue into the U.S. from Polish tourists.
Importantly, the VWP allows the U.S. to redirect its resources toward countries that pose actual threats to the U.S. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization for VWP members pre-screens travelers for potential security threats, streamlining the entry process even more.
President Obama visited Poland to reassure U.S. security assistance in light of the ongoing Ukraine–Russia conflict—despite cancelling a missile defense program in Poland several years ago. If the President really wants to prove the U.S.’s commitment to Poland, he should push Congress to allow Poland into the VWP. After all, he said he would make getting Poland into the VWP his priority over three years ago.