In 2011, I visited Poland for the first time. My trip was an opportunity to see a country that I have only known from afar, but it’s a community and culture I have grown familiar with growing up in Illinois.
The Chicago-area is engulfed with the Polish spirit as it is home to more than one million citizens of Polish ancestry, the highest concentration of any city outside of Warsaw. I greatly admire the Polish spirit. The Polish community in America has achieved high levels of home ownership, education and income, which are all characteristics we should embrace and build upon. These are also reasons why the U.S. should admit Poland as a member of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
I’m a staunch supporter of this program, which is why this month I joined with two of my Illinois colleagues Congressman Mike Quigley and Senator Mark Kirk in re-introducing the Visa Waiver Program Enhanced Security and Reform Act to admit Poland into the Visa Waiver Program. The State Department already maintains this program, which includes 37 countries whose citizens are allowed to visit the United States for 90 days without a visa.
The inclusion of Poland would reaffirm our relationship with one of our closest allies and national security partners. It would also inject additional revenue into the U.S. economy that I believe would benefit us greatly in Illinois. In 2010, according to USTA, more than 17 million visitors to the U.S. were from VWP countries. While here, these visitors spent $61 billion, supporting 433,000 American jobs and generating $9 billion in tax revenue.
The catalyst for my trip to Poland in 2011 was as a member of the Ronald Reagan Congressional Centennial Commission. Through the work on the commission, we promoted the legacy of the late 40th president, including a commemoration ceremony in Krakow. During my visit, I met with President Bronislaw Komorowski, which reinforced my belief that expanding the Visa Waiver Program to include Poland would only strengthen our alliance and lead to more U.S. economic prosperity.
I reference my visit to Poland as a member of the Reagan commission because of the historical parallels. Just months after Reagan was sworn in as President, he took up the cause of the Polish Solidarity movement.
He rallied the world in support of those in Poland who sought freedom from oppression by its government. His first December in office in 1981, he dedicated his Christmas address to the nation in support of Poland’s cause. During his address, he reaffirmed this support, saying, “When 19th century Polish patriots rose against foreign oppressors, their rallying cry was, ‘For our freedom and yours.’ That motto still rings true in our time. In factories, farms, and schools, in cities and towns around the globe, we the people of the Free World stand as one with our Polish brothers and sisters.”
Over the intervening thirty years, our nation’s relationship with Poland has only strengthened our resolve to work together; it’s a mutually beneficial partnership, and it’s one we should expand upon for our freedom and Poland’s.