The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Polish immigration rules

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Michał Kacprzyk
Raczkowski, Warsaw

Stay and work of Ukrainian citizens

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered unprecedented displacement across Europe not observed since the Yugoslav Wars. On 4 March 2022, the Council of the European Union implemented decision (EU) 2022/382, establishing the existence of a mass influx of displaced people from Ukraine within the meaning of Article 5 of Directive 2001/55/EC and having the effect of introducing temporary protection. Consequently, Members States introduced laws on basic standards of treatment for Ukrainians fleeing the war, including residence rights, labour market provisions, and social and health services. Similar laws came into force in Poland on 12 March 2022, regarding the assistance to Ukrainian citizens. Practical applicability of the Act was significant as Poland, a country bordering Ukraine, has remained the most frequent entry point for Ukrainians fleeing the war since 24 February 2022. More than six million Ukrainians have entered Poland since the war started and for many it became a destination country.

It is worth mentioning that the Act does not constitute a new rule of entry of Ukrainian citizens to Poland. Consequently, border crossing is possible on the basis of general rules which, at border control, require foreign nationals to provide relevant documents allowing entry, that is, biometrical passport, visa, etc. In cases where a person does not have one of these documents, entry is possible under the consent of a commander of the Polish Border Guards post. The consent is discretionary.

With regard to the right to stay in Poland, Ukrainian foreign nationals who have entered Poland due to the armed conflict in Ukraine since 24 February 2022, and have declared intention to stay in Poland, have the right to reside until 24 August 2023, covering a maximum period of 18 months.

Extension of residence does not apply to the citizens of Ukraine who have other grounds for residence, such as a temporary residence permit, permanent residence permit or long-term resident’s EU residence permit. Additionally, extension of residence right does not apply to foreigners who have applied for international protection (ie, refugee status, subsidiary protection) or who have declared their intention to apply for such protection in future.

Nine months on from entering Poland, a Ukrainian citizen covered by the Act, may apply for a temporary residence permit granting a right to remain for a further three years.

Departure from Polish territory for a period longer than a month deprives Ukrainian citizens of their right of residence, unless this is for work purposes, for example, being posted abroad by an employer in as a consequence of finding a job in Poland.

Regarding the right to work, citizens of Ukraine who legally stay in Poland on the basis of the Act have the right to work without requiring prior work authorisation. The only condition is to notify the District Labour Office about entrusting work to a foreigner. The notification is to be submitted within 14 days of the commencement of employment via praca.gov.pl. This obligation lies with the employer. All Ukrainian citizens who stay legally in Poland, not only persons covered by the temporary protection, can benefit from this right.

Visas for foreign nationals in Poland

Recent developments also cover visa regulations. Under certain conditions it is possible for the citizens of Belarus and Ukraine to apply for a Polish national visa in Poland. Until now, this was not possible as all visas had to be received outside of Poland in one of its foreign consulates.

New regulations do not however apply to all categories of foreign nationals, subject to further limitations. In the case of citizens of Belarus, the political situation is considered the main obstacle for going back to Belarus. Consequently, the main requirement in applying for a visa in Poland is the inability to return to their country of origin due to the imminent repressions there, and: previous stay in the territory of Poland on the basis of a humanitarian visa, or arrival to Poland from Ukraine after 24 February 2022, provided that the applicant was legally residing in Ukraine directly before that date, or intended to work as an international driver.

For citizens of Ukraine the main requirement is driven by the principle of efficiency and high demand of employees in certain professions. Consequently, the conditions for applying for a visa in Poland are intention to work as an international driver, or as a member of flight crew.

Visa applications are handled by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Expansion of the Poland.Business.Harbour programme

Poland has an important and rapidly growing IT sector hub. However, the local employment market is insufficient to fulfil the demand for highly skilled employees. Innovation is a key long-term driver of economic development, but businesses are unable to expand without the right people. Responding to the needs of global companies, the Poland.Business.Harbour (PBH) programme was established to attract specialists from the IT/new tech sector willing to relocate and work in Poland. Initially it allowed highly skilled citizens of Belarus to benefit from the fast-track visa process but later it became obvious that other foreign nationals should also be allowed to benefit from the programme. PBH has been extended by adding Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine to the list so the number of PBH visa holders exceed 50,000 persons including family members who could relocate together with the principal. Recent changes have expanded PBH even further, allowing all foreign nationals to benefit from when used for manufacturing projects strategic for the Polish economy, (ie, projects with investment costs greater than PLN 160m (approximately $34m) and creating 100 new work places. If a company does not fulfil these conditions, it can still accept foreigners from the seven countries initially selected for the programme.

The PBH programme offers a one-year Polish national visa issued in accordance with the simplified rules, much like that of a standard work visa. Once in Poland, foreigners have the right to work without work authorisation meaning less paperwork for their employers. Moreover, employees are allowed to change employer once in Poland without the additional obstacles. Additionally, PBH visa holders may incorporate sole proprietorship, which is a common form of contracting in the IT sector. This further benefit is not available to the majority of non-EU expats.

The PBH visa is submitted on the basis of a sponsorship letter issued by the future employer confirming their interest in recruiting the candidate. PBH applications are not accepted in Poland, they must be submitted to the Polish consulate in the foreigner’s home country.

The condition for the employer to participate in PBH is to have its registered office or branch in Poland. Entities not registered in Poland cannot participate in the programme, this excludes freelancers who would like to work from Poland without an actual employer. However, it is possible to come to Poland on a PBH visa and work remotely for a company not registered in Poland. In fact, as sponsorship is only required for visa application purposes, it is possible to work there as a digital nomad.