Nowadays people travel a lot.  People leave their home countries to look for a job or better life, to gain experience or new friends, or just to experience an adventure. Sometimes their destinations are neighboring countries that they have visited before. Other times these might be very distant countries, alien and exotic.

Sometimes travel of this kind causes serious immigration issues. It is common that upon arrival in a country, foreigners declare the purpose of their trip to be “tourism”, and that it is not to be long, but then do not leave once the permitted duration of stay ends. Some are aware of the requirement to obtain a residence permit for any extended stay in a foreign country and comply with all procedures for legalising their stay.  For others, applying for that residence permit does not seem to be number one on their “to do” list. Sometimes foreigners who truly intend to comply with the procedures do not fulfill all of the requirements to get their stay legalized. Such situations often result in immigration authorities deeming them illegal immigrants and expelling them from the country.

Freeing oneself from the status of an illegal immigrant is not easy. A foreigner who is in a foreign country illegally (even if he entered lawfully) is entered into a register of undesirable individuals. Every time he tries to enter the country after that he will be checked in every detail. Often he will not be allowed to enter that country again at all.

In an attempt to meet the requirements of a modern, open and socially foreigner-friendly country, and to protect foreigners from inadvertently becoming illegal immigrants, on 1 January 2012 a new Act was introduced on the legalization of stay of some foreigners in Poland. This Act, known as the “Amnesty Act”, offers amnesty for some foreigners in Poland illegally. This enables them to legalise their stay in Poland indefinitely and in the long term to obtain licence for a permanent stay.

The Amnesty Act is aimed at three groups of foreigners in Poland illegally on 1 January 2012. The first group covers those whose stay in Poland has been continuous since at least 20 December 2007, i.e. before controls at the internal borders of the Schengen area were abolished. The second group consists of those who have been in Poland since at least 1 January 2010 who have been refused refugee status and a decision expelling them has been issued. The third group covers foreigners for whom proceedings to grant refugee status were pending on 1 January 2010 as a result of a repeated application. Amnesty for those applying for refugee status is based on less strict requirements, as the intention is to accommodate the increase in 2009 of immigrants from the Russian Federation and Georgia.

Foreigners eligible for amnesty will be granted residence permits for a specified period of 2 years. As experience of the two previous amnesties shows, a period of 1 year was not sufficient. During this time the foreigner will have an opportunity to sort out his life in Poland as well as to take up employment without a work permit. In order to obtain the next residence permit for a specified period the foreigner will need to use the ordinary procedure provided for in the Polish Act on Foreigners. Residence in Poland based on a residence permit issued under the Amnesty Act will not be counted towards the period of legal stay in Poland needed to obtain a residence permit.

Similar amnesties in 2003 and 2007 covered a total of 4, 600 foreigners. In 2003 it was 3,500 people, mainly along the Eastern border; and four years later 1,100, mainly Armenians and Vietnamese.   By 31 January 2012 (i.e. within the first month for which the new Amnesty Act was in force), 2320 applications were filed with the Department for Foreigners for the whole of Poland. Applications will be accepted only until 2 July 2012.