By Alan Desmond,
PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, University College Cork, Ireland.
On Friday, 26 August 2011, the President of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, signed legislation which will allow many of Poland’s irregular immigrants, estimated by the government to number between 40,000 and 100,000, to regularise their status. From 1 January 2012 irregular immigrants in Poland will have 6 months to submit an application for regularisation.
Applications may be submitted by irregular immigrants who have been continuously present in Poland since 20 December 2007 and by asylum seekers who were denied refugee status before 1 January 2010 and who have been continuously present in Poland since that date.
Successful applicants will be granted a two-year residence permit which will also entitle them to work without a work permit. It will not, however, be possible for those regularised to count these two years as part of the continuous legal residence period required for acquisition of EU long-term residence status.
This is Poland’s third regularisation programme. The first was carried out in 2003 prior to the country’s accession to the EU and the second was conducted in 2007 in anticipation of Poland’s membership of the Schengen zone. Both facilitated regularisation of the status of a combined total of less than 6000 applicants, a tiny number of the country’s irregular immigrant population. This was largely due to extremely restrictive eligibility criteria. In 2003 and 2007, for example, applicants for regularisation had to show legal title to residential accommodation and submit proof that they would have employment.
The more applicant-friendly eligibility criteria of the 2012 regularisation suggest that the country has learned from past mistakes and are also testament to the efforts of Polish NGOs active in the field of migration.
While the upcoming regularisation programme has been positively received by civil society in Poland, Ksenia Naranovich of Fundacja Rozwoju “Oprócz Granic” (Foundation for Development Beyond Borders) has highlighted the need for the regional authorities around Poland to be adequately prepared to deal with the volume of applications. Fundacja Rozwoju “Oprócz Granic” estimates that there will be tens of thousands more applications than the several thousand anticipated by the government.
The largest numbers of applications are expected to come from Ukrainians, Vietnamese, Armenians and Chechens.
The 2012 regularisation, and the publicity surrounding it, is an acknowledgement of the fact that Poland is not just a country of emigration. The country’s continued economic growth, coupled with the emigration of more than one million Poles since accession to the EU in 2004, provides ideal conditions for bringing irregular immigrants out of the shadows into the mainstream of society and the legal labour market.
Indeed, having signed the new regularisation programme into law, Bronislaw Komorowski noted that as an increasingly attractive country for immigrants Poland needs a conscious policy on immigration, the lack of which is highlighted by the need for a third regularisation programme. The President will encourage the new government to address the lack of such a policy following the general election in October.
Whatever the legal and political failings which resulted in the need for yet another regularisation programme in Poland, the 2012 regularisation will make a reality for a potentially large number of irregular immigrants of the President’s vision of Poland as a country “open, hospitable and friendly to people seeking in our State new opportunities for better lives.”