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The Immigrant Population | Poland |

Poland Background Information Emigration / Immigration Political Development Immigrant Population Integration / Asylum Citizenship Irregular Migration Current Development References

The Immigrant Population

Stefan Alscher

/ 5 Minuten zu lesen

It is extremely difficult to quantify Poland's foreign population as there is hardly any official data concerning the "stocks", in other words, the total number of foreigners in Poland.

One of the few sources is the 2002 census, which estimates the number of foreigners living in Poland at just 49 221 people. This would correspond to just 0.1% of the total population. According to the census, the most widely represented nationalities in 2002 were Ukrainians (9 881; 20%), Russians (4 325; 8.8%), Germans (3 711; 7.5%), Belarusians (2 852; 5.8%), and Vietnamese (2 093; 4.3%). Overall, citizens of southeast European countries and the states of the former Soviet Union (excluding the Baltic countries) accounted for at least 44% of the foreign population in Poland (see table). In general, however, independent experts consider the census numbers, as well as the government population statistics for foreigners, to be too low.

By contrast, the International Migration Report 2006 produced by the UN Population Division estimates the number of foreigners living in Poland to be 703 000 (2005), corresponding to 1.8% of the total population.

Origin of foreigners in Poland, census 2002*

* The EU/EEA group also contains ten new member states; (b) the three Baltic States have not been included in the numbers for the Soviet Union. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are included in the EU/EEA group; (c) not all foreigners are categorised according to citizenship in the census breakdown.
Southeastern Europe / former USSR21.67044,0%
EU 25 / EEA11.82124,0%
Asia 4.0428,2%
America 1.4983,0%
Africa 5021,0%
Unknown 6.28612,8%
Stateless 5461,1%
Not specified 2.8565,8%
Total 49.221100,0%

Source: Polish Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny), cited in Kępińska

Residence permits

Since the reforms concerning the residence of EU citizens, five categories of residence permit have been in place. In 2005 there were a total of 42 380 applications for residence permits, of which 38 512 (91%) were approved: 22 626 renewable temporary permits were issued to third-country nationals for a stay of longer than three months, and 3 589 settlement permits were awarded. In addition, 2 183 temporary residence permits for stays of three to twelve months were awarded to EU citizens in 2005, as were 10 077 EU residence permits for stays of more than one year and 37 long-term settlement permits.

Due to the introduction of new residence permit categories, it is no longer possible to make a longer-term comparison between current data and permits that were issued previously. In the period between January and August 2006, 27.3% of the total number of residence permits issued were granted to EU citizens, primarily German (13.5%), while 38% of residence permits went to citizens of states of the former Soviet Union, in particular Ukrainians (25%). The largest percentage of residence permits granted to non-European states went to the Vietnamese (approx. 6%).

If we look at the years 1998 to 2003 – that is, prior to the introduction of permits for EU citizens – Ukrainians were granted 42.8% of all temporary residence permits. Where longer-term residence permits (then known as "fixed-term residence permits") and settlement permits were concerned, however, the percentage issued to Ukrainian citizens came to just 22.6% and 25.3%, respectively. This discrepancy is primarily due to the fact that many Ukrainians come to Poland for temporary jobs, even though their temporary residence status generally does not permit them to take on work.

Since the 2001 legal reform, persons applying for a permanent residence permit must prove, among other things, that they have had a temporary residence permit for five years (before 2001 it was three years), and that they have sufficient financial means. As access to the labour market has been handled very restrictively until now, it has not often been possible to prove sufficient financial means and thus acquire a permanent residence permit. However, on 1 June 2004 a legal reform came into force that should make gaining access to the labour market easier for specific groups, including holders of statutory temporary suspensions of deportation, foreign spouses of Poles, recognised refugees, and, pursuant to a further reform in force since autumn 2005, asylum applicants whose papers could not be processed within a year.

Residence permits according to citizenship (10 most common in 2005)

Country of citizenshipNumber
1. Ukraine9.824
2. Germany 6.125
3. Belarus 2.407
4. Vietnam1.876
5. Russian Federation1.849
6. Armenia 1.529
7. France 1.079
8. United Kingdom835
9. USA 832
10. India 673

Source: Office for Repatriation and Aliens (URIC), cited in Kępińska (2006)

Ethnic Poles

A distinctive feature of Polish migration policy is the preferred treatment it awards "ethnic Poles" (see also Political and Legal Developments). The law is aimed at ethnic Poles living in the Asian states of the former Soviet Union who were deported there under Stalin's rule in the 1930s and 1940s from their traditional areas of settlement in Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. With the introduction of the Karta Polaka in March 2008, this group will be extended to include people from neighbouring states such as Ukraine and Belarus.

Between 1997 and 2005, 3 392 visas were issued to ethnic Polish repatriates, by means of which a total of 4 966 people (repatriates and their family members) entered Poland. Excluding the years 2001 and 2002 (immediately after the Repatriation Law came into force) the number of visas issued each year has scarcely exceeded 300. The majority of repatriates entering Poland since 1997 come from Kazakhstan.

One reason for the low number of ethnic migrants lies in the stipulation that applicants provide proof of accommodation and a source of maintenance in Poland or that they have been invited by a Polish commune which agrees to meet these conditions. Due to a shortage of council housing, high unemployment and the fear of overly high costs, many communes do not feel that they are in a position to adequately support the settlement of a repatriate. Conversely, potential repatriates often find those communes that actually do issue an invitation unattractive.

While the older generation of Polish repatriates has maintained the Polish language and culture as far as possible, members of the younger generation are displaying difficulties in mastering the Polish language, preferring the Russian language and culture instead. This has led to considerable integration problems that are only exacerbated by an insufficient and poorly executed integration policy.


Poland is seen as a nearly ethnically homogeneous society. As a result of the Holocaust and the forced resettlement brought on by the shifting of borders after the Second World War (a process that had a particularly strong effect on Poland), national and ethnic minorities make up only a small percentage of the country's total population. Whereas in 1931 more than a third of the population (albeit residing within different territorial boundaries) belonged to minorities, it is estimated that they represent only 2 to 3% of the population today.

The figures on the size of national and ethnic minorities are widely divergent. In the 2002 census, about 253 300 respondents stated that they belonged to either a national or an ethnic minority (147 094 Germans, 47 640 Belarusians,
27 172 Ukrainians and 12 731 Roma). In contrast, ethnic and national minority associations estimate that they have between 1.17 and 1.78 million members. Germans, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Russians, Slovaks, Jews, Chechens and Armenians are considered national minorities. The Roma, the Lemkos, the Tatars and the Karaites are recognized by the state as ethnic minorities.



  1. Act on Promotion of Employment and Institutions of the Labour Market; cf. Dziennik Ustaw (Journal of Law), 2004, No. 99, item 1001.

  2. The repatriation law did not come into force until 2001. However, in response to an uncontrolled influx of migrants at the start of the 1990s, the immigration of ethnic Poles was provisionally regulated by the Aliens Act following a government resolution.

  3. See Elrick, Frelak and Hut (2006).

  4. For more on Poland's integration policy in general, see Gmaj (2007).

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