Sunday, July 09, 2006

Polish Visas - Chicago's Take

The Chicago Tribune is running an interesting, if not quite groundbreaking, story on the controversy over elimination of U.S. visas for Poles. It does a solid job explaining the issues, even including a few local stories about weddings or birthdays that somebody from Poland couldn't make because he/she didn't get the visa.

I have mixed feelings on this (maybe this is normal after law school). On the one hand, Poland is one of America's two best allies in Europe, and its citizens should receive a better treatment than they do now. I hear many stories about Poles going to the U.S. embassy in Warsaw or consulate in Krakow for a $100 a pop, only to be rejected. No numbers on this, but I can bet the stack of rejections greatly outnumbers those that get a visa. One more argument for dropping visa requirements. The number of Poles illegally in the U.S. is tiny compared for illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

But there are some strong counter arguments. According to some estimates, 2 million Poles have gone to work in other European countries over the last few years, becoming very large minorities in countries like Ireland virtually overnight. Two hundred thousand of my fellow countrymen have signed up to legally work in the UK just over the last two years, and who knows what the number would be if it included illegal laborers.

No wonder. Official unemployment in Poland remains high at 20 percent and something like double that among the young. The brain drain, or at least the drain of the most motivated, is tremendous. So, now that I think about it, maybe the visa requirement helps the Polish government in a bizarre way, limiting another avenue of escape for the young. Most of all, immigrant workers are a huge political time bomb in the U.S., with not many politicians wanting to look like they are taking steps to take away jobs from Americans.

In the end, I think U.S. should take away the requirement, but the chances of that are close to zero for now.


mikhail said...

you are absolutely right about the visa dilemma for America and Poland. Was recently in the South of Poland for over 4 months and I heard the same yearning for a visa and yet the anger at the inevitable rejection, and the cost (even for the initial telephone call, with the US Embassy actually sharing profit money with the telephone company). But is it such a good thing that almost every young person wants to escape to Bush's America. Or to be day workers in London or Paris ? What about building the New Poland ? And should that new country be a European Union vision of the modern state, or something uniquely Polish ? Should Poland yearn for the Eurozone, and the big consumer world and prices that will bring ?, as it has in Greece, the first country that gladly shed its ancient currency to go with the new pan European money. There's something to be said for the state, and its people controlling their own money, as in Britian. Poland is at a crossroad and I think a rush to make Brussels the capital would be a big mistake. Sort of like running away to New York........

Chris Borowski said...

Thanks Mikhail. In the big picture it's true that when the young, motivated people go to work at a Starbucks in London or a garbage sorting facility in Ireland, it's a loss for the home country. But can you blame them? And there is the argument that they will bring back some experiences to help Poland in the long run. But will they ever come back?