Researcher Alan Desmond on Regularisation of Irregular Immigrants in Poland: Third Time Lucky?

By Alan Desmond,
UCC Law Faculty PhD student at University College Cork, Ireland.

Poland’s long-awaited draft migration strategy, Migration Policy of Poland – Current State and Suggested Activities, was published at the beginning of the month on the website of the Ministry of the Interior and Administration and is now open for public consultation. The 132-page document contains many suggestions on how to improve Polish migration policy, from simplifying the rules governing the residence and employment of third-country nationals – citizens of countries from outside the EU – to fighting irregular migration. It also suggests that integration programs should be improved and greater emphasis put on the education of immigrants’ children. The Minister of the Interior and Administration, Jerzy Miller, has stated that the report envisages greater participation of non-nationals in Poland’s labour market in accordance with the needs of that market, with preferential access being given to certain categories of immigrant such as researchers and university graduates.

The report was prepared by an interdepartmental body established in 2007 to advise the Prime Minister on legislative and istitutional changes in the field of migration and to ensure co-ordination across the various government departments which deal with migration matters.

The report recognises regularisation as a possible means of counteracting irregular migration and limiting the number of illegally-resident third-country nationals.

Regularisation in 2003 and 2007

The Migration Policy of Poland makes reference to the regularisation programmes conducted in Poland in 2003 and 2007 as a result of which, according to the report, 5,470 non-nationals succeeded in regularising their status. The majority of those regularised were citizens of either Armenia or Vietnam. Ukrainians, Belarussians and Russians accounted for less than 300 of the successful applicants, despite the fact that the majority of Poland’s irregular population is drawn from Ukraine.

Successful applicants in 2003 and 2007 were granted a temporary residence permit valid for one year.

Given that Poland’s irregular population is estimated by the government to be between 40,000 and 100,000, with non-government sources putting the figure at between 100,000 and 500,000, the regularisation of the status of less than 6000 immigrants is an abysmal failure. Such failure was a consequence not just of woefully inadequate publicisation of the regularisation programmes amongst the target group, but also of excessively restrictive criteria.

In order to successfully apply for regularisation in 2003 the Polish authorities had to be satisfied that applicants did not pose a threat to national security or public order and an irregular immigrant had to submit proof, amongst other things, of almost 7 years’ continuous residence in Poland; sufficient means to cover the costs of maintenance and medical treatment without accessing social welfare; a promise of work; and legal title to residential accommodation. The 2007 regularisation programme was even more restrictive.

Regularisation in 2011?

The recognition in The Migration Policy of Poland of the ineptitude of Poland’s previous attempts at regularisation is encouraging, as is the report’s endorsement of the need for a further attempt. An idea as to the form Poland’s next regularisation might take is to be found in draft legislation published in November. The draft legislation aims to update Poland’s current legal framework for migration, which dates from 2003, to take account of new EU law and the current migration situation.

The draft legislation provides that an illegally-staying third-country national who has been continuously present in Poland since 20 December 2007 may apply for a temporary residence permit for 2 years. The two year residence permit, which would entitle its holder to work without a permit, would be refused if the applicant posed a threat to national security or public order or the interests of the Polish Republic.

This is clearly a significant improvement on the 2003 and 2007 regularisation programmes and would be open to a much bigger portion of Poland’s irregular population. If passed into law in its current form before the end of 2011, irregular immigrants would require just 4 years’ residence in Poland to be eligible for participation.

Public consultation on the draft legislation ended in March and Caritas Poland in its submissionsuggested amending the legislation to make it applicable to all third-country nationals illegally present in Poland since 31 December 2010. It also called for a 12 month period during which applications could be lodged. This would facilitate the implementation of an extensive information campaign reaching as wide an audience of prospective applicants as possible.

Even if the amendments suggested by Caritas Poland are not heeded, Poland’s next attempt at regularisation is unlikely to be as abjectly ineffective as the 2003 and 2007 programmes.

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