Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What’s all the Hubbub? VISAS

Polish people need a visa to visit the US. Poland is not one of the countries included in the Visa Waiver Program. Does that surprise you? It sure did surprise President George W. Bush a few years ago when he was asked about it by (then) President Kwaśniewski. It also surprised my former classmate serving in Afghanistan as a surgeon with other Polish surgeons and medical personnel. (He was also amazed at how creative the Polish surgeons were and how “hot'” the Polish nurses were, but that’s another story.)

So, here’s the deal. If you are a Polish citizen and you want to visit the US, you need a visa of some kind. You can fill out everything online and you have to pay for the visit to the consulate or embassy whether you get the visa or not. It is said that the visa requirement would be lifted if the refusal rate dropped to 3%. I believe it is somewhere around 10% now. Some say that this rate is inflated as people denied a visa multiple times are counted as an additional refusal, but I’m not sure how the numbers are compiled.

Here’s my observation. The first time I went to the American Consulate in Poland was about 15 years ago. When I looked at the people waiting in line, well, actually waiting in a huddle across the street as a man with a bullhorn shouted various orders at them, I saw all kinds of people. While the majority of the people were young, there were some middle-aged and older people too. From my brief chats and a lot of eavesdropping, I noticed quite a few students who wanted to attend some courses in the US or go on some work/travel programs. There were also some people going to visit relatives, sometimes grandchildren. There were a few people who admitted that they wanted a tourist visa to go and work. Whatever. I was just waiting for Misiu. I’m not a government spy or something. I have no idea what the refusal rate was back then. Misiu was first in the door and came back out in about 5 minutes, approved for a visa.

A lot has changed in Poland and in America in those 15 years. Polish people are more prosperous. Poland has joined the EU. The global economic crisis has hit Poland and America. Things have changed.

Quite a few of my Polish friends have US tourist visas. Most people get a visa valid for 10 years. When you enter the US, you get stamped for a period of time no longer than 6 months. These friends go to America on vacation and usually drop quite a bit of cash. Thank you friends for your support of the American economy :)

Some other friends who would very easily get a visa, don’t want to bother. There’s the whole world out there to see and they choose to spend their tourist dollars elsewhere.

The people who want to go abroad to work have a better chance in the EU. It’s closer to home, with a legal job and a legal stay. Trips home are faster and cheaper and you are not breaking the law.

In my last observation at the consulate, the number of people that I thought were regular folks seeking a tourist visa seemed to be smaller…a lot smaller actually. That left the rest of the folks applying for visas who seemed to be real desperados. The desperados get denied at a higher rate than the real tourists…thus leaving the overall refusal rate too high for lifting the visa requirement.

Note: My research is completely unscientific and highly observational. I could be completely wrong.

I’d like to add here that the Polish requirements for Americans to reside legally in Poland are pretty daunting. I know it is not the same, but I thought it might make some people feel better :)

Lwów, Polski konsulat. Ukraińcy czekają na wizy
To compare, an old pic of Ukranians waiting in front of the Polish Consulate (2007).


Prezentuje Prezenty said...

Chris, first of all - I love your blog! And now more to the point: I do not have a US visa, even though if I applied I would get it. I would quite like to visit the US, but as you rightly wrote - 'there's the whole world out there' and for a big chunk of that world I do not need a visa. And while the visa process is fairly simple and straight forward for someone like me (i.e. relatively young, English-speaking and living in Warsaw), it is much less so for others, fully legitimate visitors to the US. A couple of years back my parents (both turning 60 this year) were going to Canada for a family event and since my Dad always dreamt of seeing the States, they went on the adventure of getting the visas. When you take into account that: (i) they are not as competent with the Internet as younger people; (ii) they speak rather limited English, (iii) they live in the south of Poland, but not in a city with a US Consulate, it pretty much meant - me spending the weekend at home doing their visa applications and them going on a two day trip to Cracow to see the appropriate official. In short a lot of time and money spent even before the trip begun... and in all honesty and fairness given the population of the US even if 1/10th of Polish citizens chose to move there it would not make that much of a difference ;)

Lois B said...

I, too, was surprised by the visa requirement and have petitioned my elected officials to change the situation. As a resident of a border state, I would be willing to risk Polish desperadoes over our current stream of "undocumented" immigrants in a heartbeat.

Tomek C. said...

I think your observations could be correct. Most immigrants seeking better paying work went to EU countries - it's closer by distance and by culture too.

Today, a two week trip to NY is comparable to all-inclusive holidays in Egyptian resort. But applying for visa feels a little humiliating. I love this form with questions if I was forcing women to undergo abortion, commited genocide or been involved in coercive transplantation of human organs :-)

P.S. Out of curiosity - what difficulties are Polish authorites offering to Americans? :)

czarownica said...

One of my reasons to apply for British citizenship - to avoid the whole US visa procedure. Pretty expensive, but that's my usual way - better pay, then beg.

Chris said...

PP- Thank you again for the compliments. Please stop with compliments(more, more), really, that's enough (I need more, more ;) It's true that if 1/10 of the Polish population moved to America right now, it wouldn't make such a big difference. But if 1/10 of the population moved to the US and started working, not paying taxes, etc. well, that may be a problem. For full transparency I can tell you that Misiu worked in the US before he received his resident status. Despite the fact that he wasn't permitted to work he did and he and his employer paid taxes for him. I don't know if that is possible in Poland. I mean, I did get my NIP before my PESEL, but I think I had to prove legal residence to get my NIP.

Lois - Wow, you know how to take action! At home you get to see the desperados first hand. What's the biggest issue for the local community? Is it that the people use services and don't contribute via taxes? Is is that they take jobs away from others? What are the real issues?

czar - I agree better to pay than to beg, but for my Polish resident status I had to do a bit of both.

Tomek C.- I don't know how it works now for Americans but back when I had to arrange my stay...My first temporary residence status was supposed to be arranged by my Polish/American employer. That didn't happen I think mainly because they didn't care and my money came from America. At that time Americans could stay in PL for up to 6 months and there were still borders so every 6 months I took a road trip to get my passport stamped. I did that 2 or 3 times until I had had enough.

Next I decided to take care of it myself - not entirely myself because you needed to speak Polish to arrange everything and I couldn't. The next problem I encountered was meldunek. I couldn't meldować się without residence status and I couldn't get residence status with meldunek. How did I do it? Kombinowałam. Also the paper I filled out asked me how long my pobyt w PRL was going to be. I asked the lady what that meant. She said to ask my husband ;)

After that I had a series of temporary stays, the length of which is determined by the govt. not by the applicant. Once I refused my stay because they had spelled my name wrong 3 times, 3 different ways on the document and they informed me that they would have to deport me (because without proper documents I became illegal).

Finally, I applied for permanent residence and later something like "the right to settle". I applied for it much later than I could have because the documents in Polish said after 3 years but in English it said after 5. I didn't have to answer any questions about my crimes against society but I did have to justify why I wanted to stay in Poland. To get married the questions were much more stringent and were asked by a judge in court under oath but as the clerk from the govt. said, "Don't worry. It's not like you came from Bulgaria to work at the bazaar." No comment.

Lois B said...

So many issues. A rancher was murdered by illegals crossing his land. Lots of drugs and crime coming across the border and up our way. I wouldn't even consider going into Mexico any more. The waring drug cartels are shooting people in the streets south of us. Using services is an issue, uninsured drivers has been a big problem for our family.

Tomek C. said...

Wouldn't be much easier for US to let a number of immigrants (those desperados kind) to stay for couple of years and work?

Let them pay taxes, see if american dream come true. Right now they come anyway, but find work in "gray market", are out of law and society.

Last time, when I visited US in August, I told border control clerk that I'm going to stay for two weeks, and my passport was stamped with 6 moths allowance. I work in IT, so probably I could easily stay and find some well paid contract job :). If only I could do this legally without much hassle?

Anonymous said...

I have been to Rome, Paris, Berlin, London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and so on. I like big cities. One of my greatest dream is to visit New York and such places as... Tom's Restaurant at Broadway, as I am a big fan of Seinfeld (grandson of Polish immigrant) and Suzanne Vega (she sings about Tom's R.). But the last thing I want is to beg for visa and answer these wierd questions, for example, "are you a prostitute?".

I am a computer programmer and the funny part is that I am selling my services on a *regular* basis to my client in Las Vegas, Nevada (as a B2B transactions). Why I am not allowed to spend some Nevada's dollars in New York?

And, at the same time, the queues in Ukraine are shame for Poland.


Chris said...

Tomek - If you are on vacation and find a job while there, your employer can apply for a work permit for you. That would be legal but certainly not hassle free and no guarantee beyond that employer.

When I was teaching in Baltimore, the city school district hired some teachers from abroad (severe teacher shortage) and arranged their stays and permits. Unfortunately, some people like that after settling in the US and never receiving permanent resident status found that their stay was linked only to that one employer. Lose your job, lose your stay :(

P. - I guess it boils down to our pride. When I was applying for my kids' US passports, the clerks claimed that I had not proven that I lived long enough in the US. I was a bit peeved that looking at my school transcripts with dates, looking at my birth date and then looking at me, they couldn't do the math. Oh, I did the math for them. It is required on the forms.

Then the next clerk started to ask me all kinds of questions about my home state (for ex. how many miles it is from one city to another) and my future plans. Because this clerk was probably half my age, I decided to just ask him if he was checking my authenticity or just busting my b*lls. Maybe it is just their form of entertainment.

Anyhow, we got the passports so all is well.

Anonymous said...

But "1/10th" is working. (Not paying taxes- well, not always the case. Besides many working americans don't pay taxes...But they are working.) Somebody is giving them a job. Somebody is saving on them for not paying i.e. health insurance, workers compensations ...having just a profit. The problem is that Americans overuse illigal immigrants. Oficially and privately.

Kasia said...

Unfortunately the applications in any country include stupid questions. One of the questions on the citizenship application in the us is about membership in communist and/or terrorist organizations:)
I think that most people who apply for the american visa and are straight forward, and really come to visit - get them. All our friends/family members received visas. But then you have people (or used to have the people) who showed up at the consulate with photo albums, letters, stories, etc. Sometimes - the harder you try, the worse it looks, and it is suspicious.
I also think that the majority of the immigrants in the us (including the illegal ones) are hard working people. And, there are Polish immigrants in this country who are not very nice and abuse the system).
Chris - we too had to go to court in Poland before we got married. It is a standard since the American citizens can't get a paper which will prove that they are "unmarried".

Chris said...

Iwona - My Misiu was also working in NYC. The guys on his team had the right to work legally but decided to get paid under the table. At another job at a restaurant everyone paid taxes, Misiu who was working on a tourist visa and all the American employees. Not one person had health insurance :( They save money on everybody that they can.

Kasia - I remember my court date fondly. Our court-ordered translator was drunk. She got my name and date of birth wrong straight out of the gate. The best was when the judge asked if I wanted to make a declaration about my "wealth", a kind of impromptu pre-nup. I said, "no". The judge kindly and patiently explained (3 times) that in the event of divorce, my husband would be eligible to take half of my wealth here in Poland and in the States. Finally I explained to her that "half of zero is zero". She told the translator that she didn't need a translation :)