On January, 1st 2012 a new abolition act for foreigners will enter into force in Poland. Many of migrants residing in the territory of Poland illegally will be granted the opportunity to legalize their stay. The abolition law applies to foreigners who have lived in Poland continuously since at least December 20th 2007 (or since January 1st 2010, if they applied for the refugee status and received a negative decision). Foreigners should submit an application between January 1st and July 2nd 2012. The law act was welcomed by most organizations and activists dealing with the issue of migration.They claimed that it will enable the migrants to gain jobs legally and participate freely in the activities of broader society. Nowadays, illegal foreigners are often victims of various criminal activities, as they are reluctant to look for help from the police or other authorities. In the case of obtaining a legal status, they will gain the opportunity to be protected by law.
However, it must be noted, that this is not the first abolition act enacted in our country. Two attempts to encourage foreigners to legalize their stay had taken place in years 2003 and 2007. Their impact was far less than expected – only around 5300 foreigners applied for gaining the legal status in both abolitions. Of the 3500 migrants applying for amnesty in the year 2003, around 2700 were given permission for temporary stay in the territory of Poland. In the year 2007, the number of people submitting the application decreased to around 2000, of which around 1350 got the positive answer.
The reasons of relative failure of the previous abolition actions were complex and multifold. Firstly, the requirements posed by the law were quite strict – in 2003 foreigners had to prove the continuous stay in the territory of Poland since at least 1997. This condition was impossible to meet for the migrants without documents, who constitute an important part of illegal residents of Poland. The requirements of the act from the year 2007 were even stricter – in addition to proving the of they stay in Poland, applicants were supposed to obtain the promise of employment or work permit, or to indicate the appropriate financial resources available to support the one-year cost of residence and medical care. Only a small number of illegal migrants could fulfill such severe conditions. In contrast, the requirements of the current abolition act are much less strict. Applicants do not have to prove the continuity of their stay in Poland – it is assumed that their residence in Poland had a permanent character, unless any there are documents that indicate otherwise.
Secondly, since the information campaign assisting the previous amnesty programs was not carried out sufficiently, the current abolition is accompanied by a broad information campaign. A website containing detailed information about the conditions of abolition action, was created and promoted. Moreover, TV spots entitled “The Invisible” were prepared to be broadcasted on public television, in order not only to encourage foreigners to take part in abolition action, but also to change the attitude of Polish citizens towards the migrants.
Thirdly, it is assumed that many illegal foreigners will not be interested in gaining legal status in spite of the benefits. For example, some members of the Vietnamese community, which is one of the best organized and supportive of migrant communities in Poland, may avoid revealing themselves to the authorities. It must be taken into consideration, that the legal status is not given permanently, but for 2-year-period only – after that, the foreigners are supposed to renew their legal status.
It is difficult to estimate how many foreigners are staying in our country without appropriate permission. Most estimations evolve between 70,00̣̣̣0̣̣̣ (estimations of the Office for Foreigners) and 500,000 people (estimations of some NGOs dealing with the issue of illegal migrants and refugees). Among them, there are probably around 10.000-25.000 Vietnamese citizens. In two previous amnesty acts, Vietnamese were among the biggest groups of beneficiaries. In the year 2003, 1047 of them were given the possibility to legalize the stay (second largest group after the Armenians), while in the year 2007 this number reached 901, making them the largest ethnic group who received amnesty.
The organizations dealing with the issue of illegal migrants stress the fact that Poland for a long time lacked a consistent migration policy. Only recently – in July 2011- an important document entitled “Polish migration policy” was enacted. It formulated general recommendations towards the migration policy of our country. Although it does not directly refer to the particular groups of migrants (such as Vietnamese), it recommends that the authorities encourage foreigners who study in Poland or graduate from Polish universities to stay in Poland and participate in the Polish job market and to legalize the stay of some illegal migrants who don’t pose a danger to the security of our country. Therefore, the amnesty act entering into force from the beginning of 2012 can be described as a result of new migration policy taken by our country.
In general, the new amnesty act should be evaluated positively and as an important step towards the integration of some categories of migrants into the broader Polish society. Nevertheless, the impact of the law is difficult to predict. According to the estimations of Ministry of Interior, more than 10,000 of foreigners are expected to apply for amnesty. It seems particularly important to monitor the implementation of abolition act and the level of interest of various ethnic groups at gaining the legal status. The degree of interest of particular ethnic group in getting the amnesty can serve as an indicator about the strategies taken up by representatives of particular nationalities. During the next 6 months we will be able to answer the question of whether the majority of Vietnamese residing in Poland illegally is interested in legitimate participation in the Polish society – or whether they will choose to remain “invisible” for the authorities.