This made it necessary to introduce a new legal framework. Until the mid-1990s, there was no clear legal framework for dealing with migration and immigrants, except for the guidelines contained in some ratified international treaties and the Aliens Act of 1963. An extensive framework was created for the first time in the 1997 Polish Aliens Act. This law, along with further reforms in 2001 and 2003, aims to regulate the entry and residency requirements for foreigners, and to prevent the entry of "undesirable" foreigners.
In 2000 the Repatriation Act was passed to govern the influx of ethnic Poles living in the area of the former Soviet Union and who have experienced disadvantages due to deportation, exile or ethnically-motivated persecution. Under this law, those applying for an entry visa as an ethnic Polish repatriate have to satisfy a series of criteria: they must prove that two great grandparents or one of their parents or grandparents are (or were) of Polish nationality; they must demonstrate clear commitment to Polish nationality by cultivating the language, culture and customs; and there must be a guarantee of sufficient accommodation in Poland as well as a source of maintenance. If the applicant does not have accommodation or any source of maintenance, a visa will only be granted if there is an invitation from a Polish commune.
In the run-up to EU membership, Polish migration policy was affected predominantly by the adoption of the terms of the Schengen Agreement. According to the terms of the agreement, Poland was required to secure its eastern border, which would become a border to the EU.
In addition to bringing its laws into alignment with EU standards, the Aliens Act, which was amended in 2003, contained a legalisation programme (abolicja). In the months from September to December 2003, 3 508 irregular foreigners from 62 states applied for their residency status to be regularised. Predominantly Armenians (46.4%) and Vietnamese (38.2%) took part in this programme. By November 2004,
2 413 decisions had been made in favour of the applicant (68.8%).
From 2004 to 2006, Poland´s migration policy continued to be adapted to EU standards. Two amendments to the law governing the residence, entry and departure of EU citizens came into force in October 2005 and August 2006. Amongst other changes, special residence permits were introduced for citizens of the EU (up to 3 months, more than 3 months and permanent residence). The amendment of October 2005 also restricted the right to permanent settlement and simplified access to the labour market for asylum applicants whose papers could not be processed within a year.
The access of foreigners to the labour market was also the subject of further reforms in the year 2006. The new legislation simplifies access to the labour market for some categories of foreigners. However, protecting the indigenous workforce continues to be a priority. Since 1 September 2006 another regulation has come into force permitting farmers to employ seasonal workers from the eastern neighbour states of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia without a work permit. These workers may not, however, work for longer than three months within a six month stay.
In March 2008 a new legal measure for ethnic Poles will come into force, the so-called Karta Polaka. Ethnic Poles originating from states of the former Soviet Union, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, the (entire) Russian Federation and Ukraine who are awarded the Karta will enjoy certain advantages when staying in Poland. They will be entitled to take up any legal occupation (including being self-employed) without a work permit. The document will also take the place of an entry visa, facilitating frequent border crossings. Moreover, those in possession of the Karta will receive free access to educational institutions, the health system in emergencies and to state museums as well as reduced price rail travel within Poland. The document will be valid for ten years and may be extended. In order to acquire the Karta applicants have to prove that they are of Polish descent, have basic Polish language skills, and that they have cultivated an attachment to Poland and Polish culture. Unlike a visa issued under the Repatriation Act, the Karta Polaka will not entitle its holder to settle in Poland, nor will the holder acquire Polish citizenship.