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Refugee girls from Chechnya, Poland
© UNHCR, 2006

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German-Polish border
© UNHCR / September 1998

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© Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.

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Detention camps in Europe, 2005

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© Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.


Poland is one of the very few European countries which have little problem with mass immigration. When the continent is preoccupied with integration of immigrants to the societies and the labor market, Poland is still more worried about emigration of its own nationals.

Immigration Situation in Poland

Before 1989 immigration to Poland was very limited for political reasons, quite the opposite to emigration. The change occurred in 1989, for various reasons. The most important was lifting of the constrictions to movement in Eastern Europe. The open borders encouraged a vastly spread cross-border trade exchanges, including petty trade as well as smuggling of liquor and cigarettes. Most notably, the changes also caused the first inflow of asylum seekers. They did not, however, come to Poland from their own will. They were either sent back by the Western European countries exercising the idea of the “third safe country”, or abandoned by the smugglers. On the other hand, the number of undocumented workers also grew. Poland did not have a visa regime with the Eastern European countries until September 2003 and this fact facilitated the flows. In the late 1990’s, the situation was stabilized and Poland became a destination for three types of immigrants: asylum seekers, economic migrants and repatriates (ethnic Poles using the framework of Polish repatriation policy).

Asylum Seekers in Poland

For years now, Chechens have constituted a single most populous group of asylum seekers and refugees in Poland. In 2005, in 6860 applications, 6248 were filed by Chechens. The number of approved refugees is very low. In 2005 it was 312. However, the newly introduced tolerated status have been being issued since 2004 - in 2005 1832 people were under this type of protection.
Poland signed readmission agreements with the Schengen countries, which entered in force in 1993. Focusing on restricting the inflow by opening up the gate to send the immigrants back East from the Polish territory, the policy makers decided to copy the Western model and in 1996 they proposed the signing of the readmission agreements with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Similar agreements were signed with other neighbors.

Economic Migrants

Poland has not become a major host country for labor migrants. However, as it is the case of developed or developing economies, it has specific labor shortages in various sectors, mainly in construction, health and care services and agriculture. Unfortunately, until the date, no major steps leading to a Polish migration doctrine or Polish migration policy have been taken.
Legal migrants, who are issued a work permit, have been rather scarce up to the date. Labor migration has not been considered by any of the governments.
The number of applications for work permit was quite stable before the EU accession, oscillating around 25,000 per year, with around 18,000 permits actually issued. Their recipients were mainly skilled workers, in the majority of cases from the EU-15 (60%). Ukrainians were the largest group of applicants from the former USSR an Vietnamese were on the third place. After the Enlargement the share of the EU-15 dropped, to 57% of all applications, since the British, Irish and Swedish citizens do not need the permit anymore.
Obviously, since there is no labor migration policy openings, the flows of migrants workers have not been significant in official statistics. For example, as of 2004, there were slightly over 12,300 work permits granted. At the same time, until the end of 2005, it was estimated that around 450,000 “tourists” performed undocumented work, especially in agriculture, construction and housecare. The tourists were mainly nationals of the neighboring Eastern European countries, i.e. Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

The Repatriation Program

The repatriation procedure was introduced in 2000 by Repatriation Act, and since then the number of repatriates has never exceeded 900 per year. In 2005 it was slightly more than 400 people. Repatriates are the only migrant group offered a complex integration measures. These include housing and job offer provided by the municipality willing to invite a repatriate - if these are not available the repatriate cannot come to Poland, language and culture training. The inflow of repatriates has been quite limited for three reasons. Firstly, Poland has not much to offer in terms of integration program, although the repatriation integration program is the most developed one. Secondly, the repatriation was limited to Central Asia, what in practice means Kazakhstan. Thirdly, the notorious economic situation in Poland which limited the municipalities readiness to invite repatriates.

Old and New Minorities in Poland

When we talk about ethnic and national minorities in Poland, we certainly mean not immigrant minorities (so-called “new minorities”), but historical minorities (so-called “old minorities”). Since 1991, the year Poland became a member of the Council of Europe, the subsequent governments were engaged in the pan-European cooperation in preventing transborder crime and illegal migration. In 1991 Poland ratified the Geneva Convention on refugees, becoming thus one of the safe countries able and willing to grant refugee status.
The period between 1989 till the EU accession was rich in new developments concerning immigration and minority policies. It must be stressed that the provisions were brought about by European integration effect. Subsequent governments were committed not only to meet the Copenhagen criteria of 1993, but first and foremost, to enter the community of reliable European democracies. Both goals required demonstration of respect of human rights, including minority rights and asylum policy.
The Constitution of 1997 guarantees the national minority rights, mostly cultural.  Poland signed the Framework Convention on Protection of National Minorities in 1995, and ratified it in 2000. Poland became a participant to the Convention in 2001. Poland also signed the European Charter of regional or minority languages. Moreover, in January 2005, Polish Act on national and ethnic minorities and regional language entered in force.
However, it must be underlined that in the census of 2002, only 253,000 people declared belonging to some national or ethnic minority. The biggest one is the German minority amounting to over 147,000 people. Minority rights issue was the first to emerge in the context of the international relations, especially with Germany and Lithuania. In the last 17 years there were no major controversies around the treatment of national minorities in Poland.

Immigration Policy

The legal acts on immigration issues have been made and remade over the 17 years. The first modern Aliens Act was passed in 1997, then amended in 2001. New two acts concerning aliens have been in force since 2003  and they are being amended with the Europeanization of the law in this field.
Immigration policy understood in terms of migration management, does not exist.

Visa Regime

In 2003, in September, the visa regime was introduced on the Polish eastern border, among the heated debate and general discontent. Polish policymakers, responding both to principles of the Polish foreign policy, as well as to the public opinion, tried to find out alternative solution to visas. When the EU conditionality did not allow this, the decision to introduce the visas was delayed for months. The main problems concerned the effect the visa policy can have on transborder cooperation, trade and cultural relations. The issue of Polish minority abroad was discussed very often, especially in Ukraine. The question of democratization in Ukraine and Belarus was also raised, indicating that closure of borders would cause these countries further slide into authoritarian and non-democratic rule.
Since enlargement, Polish visa policy has been as autonomous as possible under the EU conditionality framework. The objective was to keep the volume high and thus, after a initial breakdown, the number of visitors came back almost to the levels from before the closure.
Currently, well over 1 million visas are issued to visitors in Polish consulates in the neighboring Easter-European countries.

Consulates issuing the largest number of visas in 2004:
Lviv: 217,935   
Lutzk: 178,046   
Kiev: 148,233   
Kaliningrad: 136,736   
Minsk: 105,667     
Brest: 102,494   
Grodno: 84,304   
Moscow: 49,083   
Kishiniev: 18,350   
Odessa: 18,292
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The entry visas entitle to one-time, two-time and multiple entries to the Polish territory. The Visitor visa can be a short-term visa (up to 3 months) and long-term (up to 12 months). The new Act introduced an important limit – the short-term visa can be issued only once in 6 months.
The Polish visa is free of charge for Ukrainians, and Russians and Belarussians were presented with a catalogue of cases when they are exempted from fee.
Ukrainians are often given a multiple entry visas, provided that are:
-railway employees while at work; international drivers;
-exchange participants on different government levels;
-participants of bilateral programs in any important spheres of collaboration;
-owners of immobility in Poland or inheritor of such
-visitng graveyard;
-visiting families;

Belarussians are offered fee-free one-entry visas, if they are:
-under 16 and over  65; visits to graveyards;
-participants of scientific,educational, cultural, technical, sport events on international, interrregional and interdepartamental level;
-academics, scholars, students participating in exchange programs;
-investigation or court officers
-disabled persons and their assistants
-members of Euroregions "Niemen", "Bug", "Puszcza Bia_owieska".

They receive multiple entry visas at 50 % of the fee if they visit their close relatives in Poland.
Russians obtain their visas free of charge, if they are:
-under 16 and over 70;
-disabled persons
-visiting the graves
-visiting sick family members or going for a funeral
-participants of scientific,educational, cultural, technical, sport events, exchange academic teachers and exchange students;
-railways employees on duty;
-inhabitants of the Kaliningrad District

As long as Poland is not a part of the Schengen zone, the visa policy can favor the transborder exchange and cooperation. Only with Schengen entry will this policy change and become more restrictive. The attempts to ease the European visa regime have been made by Polish governments (e.g. lowering the visa fees) but they have been unsuccessful.
The main developments in this area is the current discussion about the Common Consular Guidelines on the EU level, where Poland needs to take a stand.

Citizenship Legislation and Policies with a Special Regard on the Preferential Treatment of Specific Groups

Until the date, the main legal act regulating Polish citizenship criteria is the Act on Polish Citizenship of 1962.  The Act employs a highly discretionary procedure leading to granting Polish citizenship by the President of the Polish Republic. In 1998, the criteria of naturalization were introduced, and in 2000 the category of repatriates was removed fro the provisions of the Act.  Naturalization procedure involves the engagement of the President of the Office for Repatriation and Aliens, however, it also stays rather discretionary. The main requirement is the length of stay (minium 5 years) and successful integration (for which measurement there are no clear criteria). Spouses of Polish citizens can benefit from the shorter period (3 years).
The discretion of the decision was clearly shown in the late 1990s, when the President gave back citizenship to people, who lost it under the Communist regime.   
The only group with a direct access to the Polish citizenship, with transparent procedure, are the repatriates. Everyone entering the procedure based on the Repatriation Act of 2000 (cited above), receives Polish citizenship at the moment of settling in the country. It happens because Polish nationality is the sole criterion granting the repatriation visa, and the criteria are described in Article 5 of the Act.  
The last attempt of changes in the nationality law took place in 2000, when three separate bills (drafted by the Senate, the government and by Sejm) were proposed. The main innovations concerned granting the citizenship to the people who had lost it, involuntarily, as a consequence of the previous Acts on Polish Citizenship (of 1920, 1951, and 1962). Another idea was to introduce legal basis for recognition of double citizenship of the members of Polish emigrant diaspora.  
In the same proposals, the naturalization procedure was made stricter, but also more transparent, introducing criteria of the procedure: Polish language skills, a proof of applicants’ financial independence, clean criminal record and proven loyalty towards the Polish state.
A separate attempt to solve problems of Polish minorities abroad was the Polish Chart (Karta Polaka) presented in 1999. It provided the criteria of determining national affiliation of persons of Polish origin or of Polish nationality. The idea was that it would be issued not only to former Polish citizens, but also to their descendants, even in the 4th generation. Is holders would have several privileges, as the freedom of entry and extended social rights in Poland. These rights included a right to unlimited stay in Poland and to ‘national visa’; right to education and medical services in Poland; right to Polish national honours and decorations. At the same time, the holder of the Chart would not have any obligations.
Currently a new citizenship law is being debated, as well as the Polish Chart Act.


The EU accession had a minor impact on the immigration situation of Poland. In purely numerical terms, the immigration pressure seemed to diminish rather than to increase. As for the legal proceedings, not much has been proposed, neither in the field of asylum, nor in the field of visa policy. The main concern is now to actually implement the measures introduced in the existing Aliens Acts.
The same situation occurred in the field of citizenship law. Here, the direct EU impact was even non-existing. The indirect influence can be only guessed – Poland, with its non-functional Act on citizenship dating back to 1962 is in need of a modern legal tool. Observation of the integration debate in the EU member states might have some impact on the policy makers.


Aliens Act of 25 June 1997 (Dziennik Ustaw, 1997, No 114, item 739).
Act of 11 April 2001 amending the Aliens Act (Dziennik Ustaw, 2001, No 42, item 475).

Aliens Act of 13 June 2003 r. (Dziennik Ustaw, 2003, No 128, poz. 1175).

Act on Protection of Aliens on the Polish Territory of 13 June 2003 (Dziennik Ustaw, 2003, No 128, item 1176) 2000, (Dziennik Ustaw, as amended, 2004, No 53, item 532).

Gorny, A.: Polish Citizenship in Relation to Concepts of Integration and Transnationalism, in: J.W. Dacyl (ed.): Challenges of Cultural Diversity in Europe, (Stockholm: Centre for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations, 2001).

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Kepinska, E./Stola, D.: Migration Policies and Politics, in: A. Gorny/P. Ruspini (eds.): Migration in the new Europe. East-West Revisited (Houndmills/Basingstoke/Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Kepinska, E.: Recent Trends in International Migration, SOPEMI Report for
Poland (Migration Working Papers No. 62, 2005).

Okolski, M.: “Refleksje na temat ksztaltowania polityki migracyjnej w Polsce”
[Reflections on the issue of developing migration policy in Poland], in K. Glabicka/ M. Okolski/ D. Stola (eds.): Polityka migracyjna Polski [Polish migration policy], in: Prace Migracyjne, ISS Working Papers. Seria: Prace Migracyjne,
No. 18 (Warszawa: ISS UW, 1998).

Weinar A.: Tak daleko stad, tak blisko – europeizacja a integracja legalnych imigrantow, repatriantow i uchodzcow w Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej [So far from here, so close - Europeanization and Integration of legal immigrants, refugees and repatriates in Poland], in: K. Iglicka (ed.): Integracja czy dyskryminacja? Polskie wyzwania i dylematy u progu wielokulturowosci [Integration or discrimination. Polish challenges and dilemmas on the trashhold of multiculturalism] (Warszawa: ISP, 2003).

Weinar A.: Europeizacja polskiej polityki wobec cudzoziemcow [Europeanization of Polish policy versus foreigners, 1990-2003], 1990-2003 (Warszawa: Scholar, 2006).

Agnieszka Weinar, Centre of Migration Research, Warsaw University