On November 25, 2014, President Obama traveled to Chicago to address several immigrant communities, including Polish Americans. His focus: last week’s announcement of executive action that provides amendments to immigration-related rules and regulations and that will affect millions of undocumented immigrants.
The Polish American Congress (PAC) – founded in 1944 and the largest Polish American umbrella organization in the United States with membership nationwide – urges the U.S. Administration and Congress to ensure that all ethnic groups living without proper documentation in this country, including persons of Polish ancestry, are fully included in the offer to help to regularize their status.
Some 4 million undocumented residents may be included in the White House initiative, meant to help the parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. In the city of Chicago alone–home to the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw — the impact can be significant, as an estimated 16,000 Poles are living in Illinois illegally. Like the others, those meeting the requirements will be allowed to remain here if they have lived in the United States for five or more years, register, pass a criminal background check, and pay taxes and other fees.
Furthermore, the PAC urges a renewed focus on Poland being able to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program – one of the key unresolved issues in U.S.-Poland relations that was not addressed in the President’s speech and one that would give Poles traveling to the U.S. the chance to come to our country without needing a visa, a privilege already extended to citizens of many other European nations.
Although not technically immigration related, the fact that Poland has not yet been allowed to become a member of the Visa Waiver Program remains no less upsetting and frustrating. Today Poland is the only country in the European Schengen zone (border-free area in the EU), and one of only three remaining EU and NATO members, whose citizens must still go through the bureaucratic visa application process to travel to the United States.
This anomaly continues even at a time when the people of Poland moving to the United States in search for jobs and a better life – a key argument by U.S. consular officers when denying a U.S. visa – are a thing of the past. Today, Poland’s is one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in Europe. Poles now come as tourists, or to visit relatives, or attend colleges and universities-spending money in the process and thus helping the economy here. Still, Polish citizens applying for a visa still need to prove that they have „sufficient ties” to Poland and convince often harried consular officers that they are in fact planning to return to the homeland.
The Polish American Congress has been advocating for the inclusion of Poland into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, among other issues, for a number of years. In connection with the President’s recent announcements, the group calls on federal elected officials to ensure that Poland joins the VWP as soon as possible, for the benefit of both nations.