In the first half of 2012 the third abolition act in Poland since 1989 was conducted. The act was intended to enable a portion of foreigners illegally staying in the territory of Poland to legalize their status. On 02.07.2012, the call for applications for amnesty was completed – therefore, the time for the first summary has come.
It is worth reminding that the abolition campaign was one of the consequences of a significant program called „Polish migration policy” adopted by the government in July 2011, in which, for the first time, the priorities of the Polish state concerning policy towards foreigners were formulated. Before the start of the recent act, the representatives of the Office for Foreigners estimated the number of migrants potentially interested in legalization of their status at approximately 30 thousand. In fact, the reality did not live up to these estimations – applications for legalization of stay were submitted by around 10 thousand people. According to the data of Office for Foreigners from 28th August 2012, 9520 applications were registered. Although this number exceeds the sum of the previous two abolition campaigns, it should be viewed as placing below expectations. Until August 21 only 3,899 of applications were already processed (about 41 percent of the total).
Similar to the previous amnesty actions, most applicants were citizens of Vietnam and Ukraine. A surprising statistic was the large number of applications submitted by the citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh, so far not represented in large numbers among people applying for amnesty in Poland.
The analysis examining the percentage of positive conclusions is not necessarily exhaustive, as the majority of the documents submitted still await the decisions of the officials. However, it should be noted that, in contrast to previous operations, when most of the applications submitted by citizens of different countries were considered positive, in the amnesty act of 2012 there is a clear differentiation of decisions made by the officials concerning the different nationalities. In the case of nationals of Eastern neighbors of Poland (Ukraine, Belarus), more than 90 percent of migrants earn a positive decision of their applications, which represents a significant increase compared to the previous act. However, in respect to nationals of countries such as Pakistan or Egypt, positive decisions formed less than 10 percent. Among the Vietnamese, the figure was 83%, which is slightly more compared to previous abolition actions, with figures such as 78% (2003) and 80% (2007).
Analysis of these data seems to indicate clearly that the guidelines contained in the document „Polish migration policy”, according to which the migrants with big „integration potential” should be promoted in the process of legalization, found their practical implementation. Similar conclusions can be drawn from the opinion expressed by the head of the Office for Foreigners Rafał Rogala in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza: We focus mainly on the migration of our neighbors, the people who are close to us culturally, linguistically, with whom we share historical ties and who are supporting our economy. Applicants from countries close to Polish culture, such as Ukraine and Belarus, were far more likely to achieve the legalization, compared to the citizens of Muslim countries who are traditionally considered as problematic migrants. Concerning migrant communities originating from East Asia, the percentage of successful applications was significantly lower among the representatives of the relatively new migrant group – the Chinese (60 % of success rate), compared with members of migrant communities who have long been embedded in our country, such as the Vietnamese.
Problems associated with implementing the abolition act
In the evaluation of Abolition 2012 campaign, the fact that the assessment expressed by the implementing authorities (the Office for Foreigners and the various Regional Offices) differs significantly from the assessments formulated by NGOs, must be noted as meaningful. While officials describe current the amnesty act as a success of Polish migration policy, the majority of non-governmental organizations indicates serious errors committed during its implementation (Fundacja Rozwoju Oprócz Granic, Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej), or even defines it as a failure of the authorities (Stowarzyszenie Wolnego Słowa).
A major problem indicated by non-governmental organizations was changing the rules in the course of the abolition act. Although during the first three months of the abolition campaign the foreigners – in accordance to the initial statements of the officials – were not actually required to present the travel documents (passports) during the application process, the situation changed in April 2012. The officials justified the introduction of the new requirement with the appearance of the phenomenon of “abolition tourism”. Many applications were submitted by citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh, who did not speak Polish and lacked any knowledge of Polish culture – which prompted the suspicions that they were actually residents of other EU countries, who travelled to Poland only to get the legalization of their stay in one of European Union Countries. According to reports of Stowarzyszenie Wolnego Słowa, some officials began to be use knowledge of Polish as a criterion in the decisive process of granting the legal status, which was not legitimized by the abolition act. Such strategy of officials turned out to be unfavorable for some of the Vietnamese immigrants. Many of Vietnamese, despite having stayed in Poland for many years, do not speak Polish. In addition, some of them do not have valid passports, due to crossing the border illegally. Moreover, part of the Vietnamese population is not able to get new travel documents through the Embassy of Vietnam, due to the conflict with the authorities of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Remarkably, the data concerning appeals from the decisions taken by officials in the first instance indicate many of the Vietnamese were able to gain a positive decision in the second approach – 23 of 25 appeals gained approval. It indicates that initial decisions were, in some cases taken, without accordance to law.
Another significant problem is the gap present in both the abolition acts, which did not give the opportunity to legalize the stay of children born after 2007. As their legal status was very complicated, the officials took up the strategy of issuing positive decisions in cases where the parents gained the permit to stay in Poland. However, the problem of children born outside Poland and currently residing with parents in our country remained unsolved. Polish media reported a case of 3-year-old Vietnamese girl whose parents were granted the right of temporary residence in Poland (based on standard procedures, not the abolition act), but the girl was refused legalization of her status. According to reports of Stowarzyszenie Wolnego Słowa, similar cases also occurred in the course of abolition.
The future of Polish migration policy
Regardless of the evaluation of the effectiveness of abolition action 2012, it must be remembered that such campaigns, allowing for a one-time adjustment of the status of illegal immigrants, are an example of ad hoc actions which can not replace more systematic migration policy. However, in the near future, we can expect more profound changes in the legal regulations concerning the stay of foreigners in Poland. On the 1st of January 2013, the new Law on Foreigners is expected to come into effect. Evaluation of the impact of this act is currently difficult, as the project has, unfortunately, not been made public yet – only the guidelines for the law, adopted by the Council of Ministers in August 2011, can be assessed. Several of the proposed guidelines can be rightly described as „facilities” that will make the process of obtaining legal residence status for foreigners in Poland easier (ie. shortening some of the official procedures and abandoning the obligation to hold a legal title to the property by the foreigners who apply for temporary stay). At the same time, the introduction of some exacerbation is planned, the most interesting of which seems to be the requirement of passing the state examination of Polish language at the A2 level, pursued by the persons applying for permanent stay or status of long-term European Community resident. Taking into consideration the course of the abolition act of 2012, which can be described as only partial success, it seems important to monitor the legislative process of this act and the possible consequences of taking on particular solutions.
 Interview with Rafał Rogala, published in wyborcza.pl at2012-05-11, available at http://m.wyborcza.pl/wyborcza/1,105226,11699326,Cudzoziemcom_bedzie_w_Polsce_latwiej_osiedlac_sie.html