Visa-free programme for Poles in 2020 at the latest: US ambassador

The US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher has declared she intends to bring Poland into the visa waiver programme before the end of her term of office, if not this year, definitely in 2020.

The ambassador encouraged Poles to take advantage of the possibility of receiving a visa and thus contributing to the reduction of the visa refusal rate to the necessary 3 percent.

Speaking to the private news channel Polsat News on Thursday evening, the American diplomat said she was aware that she was jumping the gun but added she intends to finalise this issue before leaving Poland.

She said she hoped that “this will happen this year. Certainly, before I leave, if not this year, it will definitely be in 2020.”

In unrelated interviews towards the end of 2018 to the Polish private news channel TVN24 and the “DoRzeczy” weekly, Ms Mosbacher – who took the office of the US Ambassador to Poland in September – promised to have the visa requirement lifted in 2019.

According to the US State Department, the American consulates in the Polish capital Warsaw and the southern city of Kraków in 2017 rejected 5.9 percent of visa applications submitted by Poles, while in 2016 they rejected a record-low 5.37 percent.

Warsaw has been eyeing the Visa Waiver Program that allows citizens from 38 countries, including Germany, Chile and South Korea, to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, for business or leisure. Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Croatia are the only EU member countries not included in the US visa waiver programme.

The programme was created in 1986 and was initially capped to eight countries. The US Congress since then has passed legislation amending qualifying criteria and allowing more countries to participate. It became a permanent program in 2000.

Individuals travelling to the United States under the visa waiver program must be checked via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which runs searches on law enforcement databases. If someone is denied travel through the electronic system, they can still apply for a visa.

‘US has clear views about property restitution’

The US is clear about post-war property restitution, while it understands how complicated the matter is, Ambassador Mosbacher said in the interview.

She referred to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement at the Middle East conference in Warsaw in February in which he encouraged Poland to make a step towards comprehensive restitution of private property.

“The United States is also clear about the case… We understand that the matter is complicated,” she said, adding that the US wanted Holocaust survivors to be treated fairly.

Asked whether she was in talks with Poland about the matter, Ms Mosbacher declined to answer, saying she did not comment on diplomatic talks.

PM Mateusz Morawiecki told Polish news agency, PAP, that the issue of property restitution to US citizens of Jewish descent is completely regulated under the Polish-US indemnity agreement that relieves Poland from such responsibility.

“We are very consistent and clear about this matter, taking into account the entire historical context,” the PM said.