Poland’s answer to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion

Friday 22 April 2022

Karolina Schiffter
PCS Littler, Warsaw

With the official announcement of the unexpected outbreak of war in Ukraine, Poland reacted to the situation with an unprecedented speed and magnitude of support and solidarity. Within days of the horrifying event, the Polish government exerted its endeavours to efficiently help Ukrainian citizens affected by the war. Poland adopted a special law regulating the principles applicable to Ukrainian citizens in connection with an armed conflict in the territory of their country on 12 March 2022. The law has retroactive effect from 24 February 2022, which means that all those who escaped the war in Ukraine before the law was passed can benefit from its provisions.

Under the law, Ukrainian citizens, their spouses or immediate family members with a Pole Card who cross the Polish border in connection with the war and simultaneously declare the intention to stay on the territory of the Republic of Poland have the right to stay in Poland for 18 months (until 24 August 2023). There is no need to complete any additional formalities. In some circumstances, Ukrainian citizens are required to register their stay with the municipal administration offices within 60 days from the date on which the Polish border was crossed.

The registration process includes assigning a Personal Identification Number ('PESEL number') upon the submission of fingerprints and a photograph. Although registration offices face an increased volume of applications, the procedure has been simplified, and the PESEL number is issued immediately. The registration process is not mandatory if the entry was approved and registered by the Border Guard. However, it is highly recommended that new arrivals go through the registration process regardless of the current requirements, as this may assist when undertaking many of the procedures associated with staying in Poland in the future.

Initially, the abovementioned provisions were only applicable to those Ukrainians who entered directly through the Poland–Ukraine border, but this limitation was soon removed and the regulations now allow those fleeing Ukraine in connection with the war to transit from other countries. Persons who were temporarily outside Ukraine at the time of the outbreak of war for business or leisure purposes are also recognised as persons fleeing from Ukraine. The act also regulates travel constraints. Departures from Poland are subject to restrictions as to the length of stay abroad. Absence for a period exceeding one month deprives of the right to stay legally in the territory of Poland, with no possibility of subsequent recovery.

In light of the intensified attacks in the territory of Ukraine, it was also decided that those Ukrainians whose right to stay expired on 24 February, or after that date, will be granted an extension of legal stay until 31 December 2022 or for 18 months – depending on the type of a document which permitted their legal stay in Poland, such as the Schengen Visa or Polish Residence Permit.

Documents extended under the provisions of the new law do not allow travelling, except for employees who work in international transportation services.

Ukrainian citizens, their spouses or immediate family members with a Pole Card who reside legally in Poland are allowed to work in Poland, providing that their employment is registered online with the local labour office within 14 days from the work commencement date. No additional work permit is required. The legal employment status depends on adherence to the strict timeframe, otherwise the employment will be considered illegal from day one. The law provides that Ukrainian citizens may also conduct economic activity under the same conditions as Polish citizens. To register a business, one must obtain legal residence and a PESEL number. Maintaining legal residence is crucial because its loss results in deletion from the Central Registration and Information on Business (CEIDG), which in turn disables the ability to legally continue the business activity.

Granting legal stay together with a right to work is further accompanied by the special regulations introduced in connection with the critical situation in Ukraine. The crisis strategy implemented by Poland ensures financial and non-financial benefits to help in the early stages of the assimilation process in our country. To date, Poland has welcomed over two million Ukrainian citizens. it is well suited to provide all necessary support and will continue rescue efforts to accommodate any needs the Ukrainian refugees may have in these challenging times.