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 :)
To compare, an old pic of Ukranians waiting in front of the Polish Consulate (2007).