WASHINGTON, DC (JBANC) — The citizens of twenty-two European countries enjoy visa-free travel privileges to the United States. Notable exceptions to this policy are the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), and Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. All seven are members of both NATO and the EU. Recently, Congress took action to redress this discriminatory policy towards Eastern Europeans, but they haven't gone far enough. We need your help to make sure Congress takes the necessary steps to end discriminatory visa policies towards the citizens of these countries, including the Baltics.
Legislative Background - On May 17, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to the Immigration Reform Act (S. 2611) to include Poland in the Visa Waiver Program for at least two years. The amendment does not apply to the Baltic countries or to other new European Union members.
Senate amendment (SA 4000), supported by Senators Santorum, Mikulski, and Frist, states that EU countries providing military (300 or more troops) and other support to U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan would qualify for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. With this language, Poland would qualify, but not the Baltic countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovakia. This disparages the commitment and sacrifice of these other countries to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
House Baltic Caucus Co-Chair John Shimkus spoke out against the exclusion: http://jbanc.org/visa.html
The House of Representatives has already adopted its own version of the immigration bill (H.R. 4437), which does not include a visa waiver provision for Poland or any other country. A vote on the final version of the Senate bill is expected to take place as early as May 25. After the Senate passes its version, a House-Senate Conference Committee will reconcile the two bills (see list of possible conferees below).
While SA 4000 is a welcome step in the right direction, it would be appropriate to have not only Poland, but also the Baltic countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia included in the Visa Waiver Program. This is a window of opportunity to have these countries included.
Please urge Members of Congress to help include the Baltic countries in the Visa Waiver provision in the Immigration Reform bill.
¨ Congressional contact information is available from online sources such as: http://congress.org
¨ Other relevant contact information is on the JBANC “Baltic Links” webpage: http://jbanc.org/baltics.html
¨ Capitol switchboard, for the telephone number of your Member of Congress at: (202) 224-3121
(JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc. and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.)
Ask Congress to include Baltics in Visa Waiver Program (3)