The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced this week that it has approved Poland for participation in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) as of November 11, 2019. It joins 38 other countries, which include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

The Visa Waiver Program waives the visa requirement for persons seeking to enter the United States for up to 90 days for tourism or business. DHS has determined that persons from these countries who apply for temporary visas to the United States have a high degree of compliance with the terms of those visas. In general, this means departing the United States before the period of stay expires and not working without authorization.

Normally, persons who want to visit the U.S. for tourism or business first must apply for a visa through the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. Citizens of Visa Waiver countries simply must complete a short online application, called ESTA (for Electronic System for Travel Authorization), on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) website. Once CBP approves the ESTA registration, the person travels to the U.S. and presents a valid passport and return ticket upon arrival. The CBP officer then grants a period of stay of up to 90 days.

There are some important restrictions of the Visa Waiver Program. Prior travel to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen can make one ineligible for Visa Waiver Travel. Unless there is a major medical event, Visa Waiver travelers cannot extend their 90-day stay. They also generally cannot apply for lawful permanent resident status during that period. Finally, making a quick trip across the border to Canada or Mexico will not result in a new 90-day period.

The ESTA registration remains valid for two years or until the passport expires. Also, the Visa Waiver Program requires a new ESTA registration in several situations. Specifically, Visa Waiver travelers need to update their ESTA registration when: (1) they obtain a new passport, (2) they change their name, (3) they change their gender identification, (4) they change their country of citizenship, or (5) their responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a “yes” or “no” response have changed.

The VWP is a helpful way for citizens of qualifying countries to travel quickly to the U.S. for business meetings or tourism. There is no limit on how many Visa Waiver visits a person can make in one year, but if CBP officers notice a pattern of more time in the U.S. than abroad, the officer may admonish the person to apply for a visa before returning. For most persons, however, the Visa Waiver serves them well for a few short trips each year. Citizens of Poland now can enjoy that benefit too.