Theme: In December 2007 the Schengen space was extended
to include Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, weakening these countries’
links with their Eastern neighbours and allowing the entry into the
rest of the EU of Chechens, Vietnamese and other non-EU residents in
Summary: Since the beginning of the 1990s, the
transformation of the economic and political structure of the Central
and Eastern European (CEE) region gave rise to new migration trends,
especially in Poland. Over the past 17 years Poland has become the
host and crossing country for thousand of immigrants –both
legal and illegal– and refugees. The biggest national groups of
non-EU immigrants in the Central European countries come from their
eastern neighbourhood –Russia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus–
and from Asia –Vietnam and Armenia–.
Poland has been forced to design a stricter migratory
regime, first for its accession to the EU and, secondly, for entering
the Schengen area. Since December 2007 Poland’s eastern
frontier (stretching across 1,200 kilometres from the Baltic to the
Carpathians) has become one of the few points in Europe at which it
is possible to control human spatial mobility on the east-west axis.
The immediate victims of the enlarged Schengen space were its closest
eastern neighbours, whose international mobility has been stopped by
the implementation of a visa regime. On the other hand, there has
been a sharp increase in the number of crossings of Poland’s
western borders by illegal migrants from other regions –previously
living in CEE countries–. The question is how to make the EU’s
external borders as friendly as possible for legal migration and as
tight as possible for illegal migrants.
Analysis: In the 1990s, the strictly-guarded
border between the USSR and Moscow’s satellite countries ceased
to exist, thereby allowing the spread of petty cross-border trade
that was highly profitable for all those involved. In the Polish
case, the value of this border trade was estimated at an annual US$3
billion, and thousands of Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Belorussians
made a living from it, buying and selling any kind of goods and
extracting a profit from the price differences on each side of the
frontier. However, 14 years later, the accession to the EU of Central
European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia brought about
the disappearance of this short-lived area free flow of people. EU
candidate countries were required to adopt the Schengen acquis and, forced by EU pressure, they all
introduced visa requirements for non-EU nationals in neighbouring
countries, amidst great popular discontent and governmental
Finally, in 2003 visa requirements were introduced for the citizens of Russia,
Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. As external border
protection mechanisms had been given priority in the accession
negotiations, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary obtained substantial
economic and technical aid from the EU to control their Eastern
borders. However, despite this help, Poland –with its long
borders with the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia– had a difficult
task to ensure that the future external border of the EU was tight
and secure. Furthermore, since 1 May 2004,
the region has been subject to the asylum law in force in the EU
Member States, which provides the rules for determining the country
responsible for asylum procedures (the so called Dublin II
The unexpected migration outflow from Poland after 1 May 2004 to the
countries that had opened their labour markets, primarily the UK,
caused a serious labour shortage in Poland which forced it to
partially open its own labour market to foreigners from neighbouring
countries. On 31 August 2006 the right to employ workers from the
Ukraine, Belarus and Russia without work permits for three months in
any given period of six months was granted. This privilege was
originally only applicable to the agricultural sector but in June
2007 the right to employ workers without work permits from Poland’s
neighbouring countries was extended to other sectors, including the
construction sector. However, the pressure in the labour market for
both skilled and unskilled workers led to further developments and in
February 2008 the duration of legal work without a work permit was
extended from three to six months in any given period of 12 months.
Since Schengen rules conflicted with Poland’s policies regarding
ethnic Poles, in September 2007 an ‘Act of the Polish Chart’
was approved in an attempt to facilitate the entry into Poland of
ethnic Poles living in the East. According to this act those who meet
the relevant ethnicity requirements will be able to take up
employment or conduct economic activities on the same basis as Polish
nationals. They will be given Polish residence visa (free of charge)
and after a given period of time will be able to apply for residence
permits and Polish citizenship. A similar attempt to protect
co-ethnics from the results of Schengen enlargement had previously
been made by Hungary through the ‘Status Law’.
The collapse of communism resulted in
an enormous increase in international cross-border mobility in
Eastern Europe. In Poland the peak in the number of arrivals of
foreigners was registered in 1999, when the number of incoming
foreigners rose to almost 90 million. From the mid-1990s to the year
2002 the number of arrivals from the former Soviet Union fluctuated
between 11 million and 13 million. The introduction of visas in 2003
led to a temporary decline in arrivals through Poland’s eastern
border but the trend was rapidly reversed and by the end of 2005
levels had returned to those registered before the introduction of
There were 65.1 million legal arrivals of foreigners in 2006, of which 3.9
million were Belorussians (6%), 5.3 million Ukrainians (8.7%) and 1.7
million Russians (2.6%). The stricter control of mobility as a result
of the conflict in Chechnya led to a 12% decline in 12% Russian
arrivals during 2007.
As regards irregular entries, the
data on foreigners captured by Poland’s Border Guard (BG) while
attempting to illegally cross the country’s borders (either
into Poland or from Poland to Germany) show quite a stable trend
between 2000 and 2006, fluctuating between 3,100 and 3,600 per year.
The only exception is the year 2004, when it reached a peak of almost
4,500, explained by the increase in the mobility of Chechen
immigrants who started moving west after the EU’s eastern
enlargement. Chechens constitute one of the main groups of foreigners
who attempt to enter Poland illegally and they usually apply for
refugee status, although at best their presence is merely tolerated.
Those awaiting refugee status remain at reception centers, which were overcrowded prior to
2004 since Poland was one of the main destinations of Chechens.
However, from 2004 the centres have been abandoned and Chechens have
generally moved elñewhere.
Figure 1. Foreigners held by Poland’s Border Guards while attempting to
illegally cross the Polish frontier
After the enlargement of the Schengen space, and despite
the security measures involved, irregular migration has continued to
occur. Assistance in smuggling illegal immigrants remains a highly
important source of income for many families in the Ukraine and, due
to widespread corruption, organised smuggling still involves only a
small risk and a substantial profit. In any case, the most recent
data show that the number of Chechens caught crossing Poland’s
borders illegally grew considerably after Poland joined the Schengen
agreement. From 20 December 2007 to 17 January 2008 Poland’s
Border Guard has arrested 600 individuals, 95% of which are Chechens.
The increase is evident when it is considered that the total for 2007
was 423 (of which, again, 95% were Chechens).
Irregular Migration within Poland
There are no studies in Poland on the size of irregular inmigration within
the country itself but observers agree that an important national
group is made up of Vietnamese. There are different estimates
concerning this group –varying from 5,000 to even 40,000–.
The Vietnamese community is relatively well established in Poland
and, contrary to other non-EU citizens from the East, the majority of
Vietnamese consider Poland their country of destination.
Another significant ethnic/national group to have made a home in Poland is
that of the Armenians. There are no trustworthy estimates concerning
this group and the number considered varies from 6,000 to 12,000.
Approximately half of them are in Poland illegally. The flow from
Armenia that occurred after 1989 is related with the presence of a
small but well established and assimilated old Armenian diaspora
which has been in Poland for centuries.
The most recent estimate on Poland’s
immigrant stock was presented by the Central Statistical Office in
2008 and referred to data as of December 2006. According to this
source, the number of immigrants residing in Poland is around
200,000, of which Ukrainians constitute the predominant category.
Ukrainians also comprise the biggest national group working in Poland
illegally. The massive shuttle migration into Poland from the
Ukraine, beginning in the 1990s, was the result of the strong
historical and cultural ties between the two countries, their
geographical and linguistic proximity, Poland’s pro-Ukrainian
foreign policy after 1989 (exemplified by Polish help during the
Ukrainian Orange Revolution and Poland’s Eastern Neighbourhood
Strategy) and its benevolent visa practices. Before joining Schengen,
Poland’s visa regime was highly liberal and visas were issued
to Ukrainians free of charge, while Russians and Belarussians were
also allowed a number of cases for which they did not need to pay.
Ukrainians were often given multiple entry visas.
According to recent estimates there are 300,000 –perhaps even up to
500,000– Ukrainians employed in Poland annually as
short-time/temporary immigrants. Most of them entered Poland with a
tourist visa (before 21 December 2007) but work in a shadow economy
in irregular conditions. Poland’s admittance to the Schengen
space has had as its immediate consequence a dramatic decline in the
number of border crossings by Ukrainians, a decrease that could have
negative consequences for the Polish economy.
The first attempt to regularise illegal immigrants in Poland was
undertaken in 2003. Its main aim was to regularise those immigrants
who, mainly due to humanitarian reasons, could not been expelled but,
at the same time, did not match the existing legalisation criteria.
This Amnesty Programme consisted of two so-called ‘small’
and ‘big’ amnesties. The first was applicable to illegal
immigrants who wanted to leave Poland. Immigrants who complied with
the Amnesty rules were promised not to be put on the list of unwanted
foreigners. The results were, however, not impressive; only 282
foreigners took the opportunity to regularise their situation: 139
Ukrainians, 26 Armenians, 25 Bulgarians and 25 Vietnamese.
The results of the ‘big amnesty’ were not too impressive
either: 3,512 immigrants applied and 2.747 fulfilled the requirements
(1,245 Armenians, 1,078 Vietnamese, 68 Ukrainians and 51 Mongolians).
Immigrants had to prove that they had resided in Poland continuously
since at least 1 January 1997. This requirement was, however, too
strict for the majority of cases. Its critics pointed out that
information about the opportunity for legalisation had not been
advertised sufficiently and that the four-month announcement period
(from 1 September to 31 December 2003) did not allow sufficient to
time to arrange for employment offers and the other documents
required. The most serious disadvantage was faced by illegal
immigrants who did not have identity documents as without them it was
impossible to confirm not only their identity but also the date of
their arrival in Poland. Simultaneously with the Amnesty, Poland
introduced the practice of the ‘tolerated stay’, whose
purpose was to legalise the stay of foreigners whose expulsion was
deemed to be unfeasible.
A new regularisation programme was launched in July 2007 for those who
had not submitted an application to the previous Amnesty Programme.
Immigrants were obliged to comply with a number of rigorous
conditions: to have resided in Poland continuously since at least 1
January 1997 (with absences of no more than six months at a time and
not exceeding a total of 10 months); to present a legal title to
occupy a housing; to have a promise or a written declaration of
employment, or receive an income or possess property sufficient to
cover their cost of living and that of their dependants, including
the cost of medical treatment, for a period of one year. Up to
January 2008 1,541 foreigners have applied for this programme, most
of whom are Vietnamese, followed by Armenians. The final data are
still being processed.
Conclusions: It has only been a few weeks since the
extension of the Schengen space to Central Eastern Europe. Hence, a
comprehensive evaluation of the security measures implemented to
protect the EU’s Eastern frontier is not yet possible. But some
immediate consequences have already been observed, namely a dramatic
decline in the number of border-crossings by the Central Europeans’
closest neighbours: Ukrainians, Belorussians and Russians.
The external border of the EU should be as friendly and as open as
possible for legal migrants but non-porous for illegal migration. Due
to the dramatic outflow from Poland of around two million people
after 1 May 2004 there is a strong demand for foreign labour –both
skilled and unskilled– and it is a very difficult task to
combine this demand with the security measures implemented in
A serious threat to Poland’s internal security –and to that
of the EU as a whole– in relation to East-West migration is the
destabilisation caused by ethnic armed conflicts in the East that
might increase the volume of migration from third countries through
Russia. Therefore a readmission agreement between the EU and Russia
is strongly recommended. Cooperation in border management with
neighbouring countries –including training on border protection
standards and rules– should also be considered.
Economist and social demographer, Professor at the Lazarski School
of Law and Commerce in Warsaw and Coordinator of the Migration and
Homeland Security Programme at the Polish Centre for International