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updated: 8/21/2013 4:00 PM

Kirk, Quigley push for visa-free travel for Poles

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Associated Press

Two Illinois lawmakers urged Congress on Wednesday to pass pending legislation that would allow Polish citizens to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa, saying including the staunch U.S. ally in the visa-waiver program is long overdue.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley reiterated their support for granting Poland the visa-free status during a visit to the Polish American Association in Chicago. The city has one of the largest Polish populations outside of Poland.

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Despite Poland's ties to the U.S., including as a NATO member, it is one of the few European nations not in the Visa Waiver Program. It has been excluded, at least partly, out of concern some Polish visitors will stay on illegally.

Quigley, a Democrat, said Poland was excluded because of the program's "outdated structure." Kirk, a Republican, added that including it would boost U.S. tourism and "strengthen our critical and long-standing diplomatic relationship with Poland."

Poland repealed its visa requirement for U.S. citizens in 1991, shortly after the collapse of communist governments in Eastern Europe.

Without the U.S. waiver, Poles can wait months for visas and have to travel to U.S. embassies or consulates in what can be a time-consuming and costly process for many.

Poland, which joined the European Union in 2004, says the risk of its citizens staying illegally in the U.S. is lower than it once was because there are more jobs in Poland, Germany and other EU countries.

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