Amnesty for illegal migrants, Poland
Following long-standing pressure from civil society organisations supported by economic experts, the Polish parliament adopted a law legalising the situation of foreign citizens illegally residing in Poland and give them social rights. The amnesty was launched for the third time this century. The take-up by the target group (almost 10,000 applications) was higher than expected.
The extent of illegal immigration to and the volume of foreign citizens residing in Poland illegally are subject to estimations, as exact figures cannot be obtained, yet authorities and experts on migration agree that the phenomenon has reached a substantial scale. The official site of the amnesty action states that over 100,000 foreigners live in Poland illegally, and some 50,000 to 70,000 might be interested in gaining a residence permit.
As illegal aliens cannot undertake legal employment, they are inevitably pushed into the informal economy.
In the 2000s the Polish government twice tried to open the gate to illegal migrants, by launching ‘amnesty’ campaigns, through which, thanks to temporary liberalisation of the relevant legal regulations, such persons could legalise their stay in Poland. There were two campaigns, in 2003 and in 2007/2008, but the uptake was mediocre. Altogether only about 5,000 illegal immigrants responded to the two calls. Those rather disappointing result did not discourage the government from another attempt in 2011.
The main objective of the new law was to allow foreign citizens with irregular legal status entry into the mainstream of social life in Poland. As argued by the lawmaker in the background note to the draft legislation, the new law was 'to counteract illegal migration […] and to reduce the number of illegal migrants residing in the territory of Poland. Those actions will enable foreigners to legalise their stay, first, temporarily, and in the long perspective, permanently, thereby allowing them to exit the informal economy and gradually integrate with the Polish society'.
The Act on legalisation of stay of some foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland and on amendments to the Act on granting protection to foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland and to the Act on Foreigners was passed into legislation on 28 July 2011 and came into force on 1 January 2012. The Act offers to any foreign citizen staying in Poland as of 1 January 2012, whose presence in Poland is unlawful, an opportunity to seek a residence permit in Poland provided that:
- their stay in Poland continued with no interruption since at least 20 December 2007;
- or their stay continued with no interruption since at least 1 January 2010, and who prior to that date had been definitively refused the refugee status along with the expulsion decision;
- further proceedings for the award of the refugee status were carried out for them on 1 January 2010.
Unless available documents prove otherwise, it is assumed that the foreigner’s stay is continuous.
The residence permit is granted for a two-year period, and must be renewed once it expires.
Clause 12 of the Act is of special importance from the point of view of this study, as it states that 'A foreigner who was awarded the permit referred to in Article 3(1) (residence permit – J. Cz.) shall be allowed to undertake a job in the territory of the Republic of Poland on the basis of an employment contract without work permit'.
Outcome of evaluations: lessons and conclusions
Achievement of objectives
The action was lunched on 1 January 2012, and from that day on until 2 July 2012 anyone interested could submit an application to the regional representative of the central government (voivode). There was a vigorous response by the target group with nearly 10,000 applications received by the administration, which may also be attributed to an intensive and far-reaching information campaign in which various NGOs became involved aside from public authorities. However, only three in 10 applications were eventually reviewed positively. While those who succeeded may look forward to settling down in Poland, the remaining part may find itself in a difficult position, facing even the prospect of expulsion from the territory of Poland.
Obstacles and problems
Concerns were raised with regard to the intentions of those seeking amnesty. It was argued that once granted the residence permit, a person may use the right to free movement across the Schengen zone, and use it as a gateway to the more affluent Member States, and leave Poland permanently. Furthermore, the level of mistrust towards the state has been reportedly substantial on the part of the target group.
While there is no direct impact of the amnesty on the labour market (a person granted the resident permit may not actually use the right to undertake legal employment), it is likely that at least some of the foreigners whose legal status has been clarified are going to leave the shadow economy. The supply side of the formal labour market may be boosted in effect, which, considering rather gloomy demographic forecasts, is a desirable scenario. On the other hand, it appears that only a minority of those possibly interested in legalising their stay in Poland took the chance, while the vast part of the target group chose to remain underground.
By mid-August 2012, a total 9,514 applications were submitted, of which 2,883 gained approval from the authorities, which translates to 30.3% of all those seeking the amnesty. The response of the target group is stronger than in the previous cases of amnesty (in 2003 and 2007/2008 respectively). On the other hand, the number of applications accepted represents only some 10% of foreigners living in Poland illegally, and 15% to 20% of those considered interested in the legalisation of their stay, according to the estimates disclosed by the authorities responsible for the campaign.
Despite a short time since the inception of the measure, its initial effects appear promising, and thus might be considered a benchmark for and by other member states. The action itself is easy to replicate at the technical level (a simple change of legal environment), but as it is a result of a political decision which requires prior consensus among the major political actors. Meeting the latter condition may be difficult to achieve in the times of economic recession and high unemployment.
The third attempt to open the way for illegal foreign residents to settle down in Poland and undertake legal employment proved more successful than the previous two. Yet the 10,000 applications submitted (of which fewer than 3,000 were accepted) represent only a small minority of foreign residents living in Poland illegally. Furthermore, there is no straightforward causal relation between obtaining residential and work permits and actually finding an official job, yet the incentives for making that move seem strong enough (social security and health insurance) to extract at least some of such foreign citizens out of the shadow economy.
The Act of 28 July 2011 on legalisation of stay of some foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland and on amendments to the Act on granting protection to foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland and to the Act on Foreigners [Ustawa z dnia 28 lipca 2011 r. o zalegalizowaniu pobytu niektórych cudzoziemców na terytorium Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej oraz o zmianie ustawy o udzielaniu cudzoziemcom ochrony na terytorium Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej], version obtained from the amnesty campaign website (in English)
Background note to the draft of the Act on legalisation of stay of some foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland and on amendments to the Act on granting protection to foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland and to the Act on Foreigners [Uzasadnienie projektu ustawy z dnia 28 lipca 2011 r. o zalegalizowaniu pobytu niektórych cudzoziemców na terytorium Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej oraz o zmianie ustawy o udzielaniu cudzoziemcom ochrony na terytorium Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej], Office for Foreigners (Urząd do spraw Cudzoziemców, UDSC)
Mazuś, M. (2012), Absolution without consolation. Is abolition and legal stay in Poland a good deal for foreigners? [Rozgrzeszenie bez pocieszenia. Czy cudzoziemcom opłaca się abolicja i legalny pobyt w Polsce?], Polityka, 17 January, accessed on 3 September 2012.
Social Diagnosis 2009 (2010), Subjective quality and objective conditions of life in Poland [Diagnoza społeczna 2009. Warunki i jakość życia Polaków], University for Finance and Management/ the Council for Social Monitoring (Wyższa Szkoła Finansów i Zarządzania/Rada Monitoringu Społecznego), Warsaw.
Unregistered employment in Poland in 2010 (2011 ), [Praca nierejstrowana w Polsce w 2010 r.], Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), Warsaw .
Jan Czarzasty, The Institute of Public Affairs and Warsaw School of Economics