Last week, Heritage and The Wall Street Journal released the latest edition of the Index of Economic Freedom. Among its top performers is Poland, up seven spots in the global rankings.
Poland’s economy is the only one in Europe that has expanded every year over the past two decades. In fact, Poland has become one of the EU’s strongest economic performers, with private industry accounting for two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP). Yet despite the fact that Poland is above the world average in terms of economic freedom and is a longtime U.S. ally, the U.S. continues to shortchange the nation in terms of membership in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The VWP allows citizens from member nations to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days visa-free, which offers tremendous benefits to the U.S., including increased public diplomacy, facilitated tourism to the U.S., and a reduced workload for U.S. consulate offices. In 2008, roughly 17 million VWP visitors traveled to the U.S., spending $100 billion in tourist dollars on shops, hotels, and restaurants in the U.S., infusing much-needed capital into the U.S. economy. Not only that, but security measures added since the program’s inception have made it an important counterterrorism tool. With benefits such as these, it’s hard to see why the U.S. is not fully using this program and capitalizing on all it has to offer.
Yet since 2008, expansion of the VWP has largely been put on hold. In other words, key friends and allies such as Poland have been made to wait, and wait, and wait.
So what’s the holdup? Well, due to a congressional mandate, the Department of Homeland Security is prohibited from admitting any country to the VWP if it has a visa refusal rate exceeding 3 percent. Poland has a 9.8 percent visa refusal rate. Instead of continuing to hold VWP expansion hostage to ridiculous mandates, Congress should move to use visa overstay rates, rather than visa refusal rates.
For Poland, this would likely mean the ability to join VWP once and for all. In fact, Poland has an overstay rate of just 2 percent, compared to the whopping 40 percent of total overstays. These numbers show that Polish citizens are abiding by our entry rules, but instead of being looked at favorably, they’re denied from the VWP based on the much less objective metric of visa refusals.
Allies need to be treated like allies. Poland has signed all of the necessary security and travel agreements needed to gain admittance into the program. Now all that’s left is for Congress to act.
Rosie Brinckerhoff is a former member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.