Refugee status is granted in Poland to a foreigner who cannot or does not wish to accept the protection of his/her country of origin due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted in this country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinions. These criteria have been adopted in accordance with the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the New York Protocol, ratified by Poland in 1991. The authority responsible for considering applications for granting the refugee status is the Office for Foreigners.
In Poland, there are several ways of submitting the application for granting the refugee status:
- Upon entering Poland – at the border crossing or during customs clearance at the airport
- On the territory of Poland – the application should be submitted through officers of the Border Guard division in Warsaw: Nadwiślański Oddział Straży Granicznej, 33 Taborowa St, Warsaw (the Office for Foreigners building)
- In a guarded centre for foreigners (only if a foreigner is detained in one) – the application should be submitted in a guarded centre through the commanding officer of the Border Guard division covering with its territorial scope the seat of the guarded centre or arrest for the purpose of expulsion where the foreigner is placed.
During a conversation with officers of the Border Guard, you should state explicitly that you wish to submit an application for granting the refugee status in Poland. If you say “azyl,” which means “asylum” in Polish, the officers will know that you wish to submit the application.
Attention: A foreigner can submit the application even if he/she is staying in Poland illegally, but in this case he/she may be detained by the Border Guard and placed in a guarded centre for foreigners or in arrest.
The application form should be filled out in Polish. It is available on the website of the Office for Foreigners or directly from this link.
Together with the application form, the foreigner should deliver to deposit of the Border Guard his/her passport. He/she shall receive then the Temporary Certificate of the Foreigner’s Identity, valid for 30 days (after this time successive certificates may be issued). On submitting the application, the foreigner has a photograph and his/her fingerprints taken so that the authority could find out whether he/she has already submitted an application for granting the refugee status in another EU country. Under the Dublin II Regulation the application can be submitted in only one country of the Schengen zone.
An adult person is informed in writing about the principles and the procedure of the proceedings for granting the refugee status as well as about the rights and obligations arising from the submission of the application. The proceedings for granting the refugee status is initiated upon the submission of the application.
Attention: In the course of the proceedings, a foreigner shall not leave the territory of Poland! Foreigners who will leave the country during this period will be arrested and, most probably, deported to Poland.
Who Cannot Request the Refugee Status
Foreigners cannot be given protection in the form of the refugee status if they:
- are excluded from the Geneva Convention, i.e. they have committed a crime against peace or humanity, a serious non-political crime, or if they pose a threat to Poland’s security.
- have come from a country where humans rights are essentially protected
- have come from a safe third country, which offers a possibility of applying for granting the refugee status
- have been granted the refugee status in another country
The submitted application goes next to the Office for Foreigners. The crucial part of the proceedings is an interview during which an officer of the Office for Foreigners is supposed to establish the circumstances in which the foreigner has left the country of origin and the reasons why he/she applies for the refugee status. It is the most important part of the proceedings: the information that we provide during the interview will be the basis for the authorities to decide whether we need protection in Poland. It is recommended that you prepare yourself for the interview. Officers usually ask about the reasons for departure, our or our family’s political activity, arrest or detention and contacts with militants. All details are of the utmost importance – dates, names, places. It is advisable to bring all documents confirming that given facts have occurred (autopsies, arrest documents) unless such documents have been submitted to the Office beforehand.
The foreigner will be informed in writing about the time and place of the hearing. Hearings take place in the Office for Foreigner, 33 Taborowa St, Warsaw. In extraordinary circumstances (for instance, the foreigner is held in arrest for the purpose of expulsion/a guarded centre or his/her health condition prevents him/her from coming to the Office) the hearing may take place elsewhere.
Attention: Attendance at the hearing is obligatory. If, for important reasons, you are not able to come to the Office at a specified time, you should inform the officer in charge of the proceedings. Absence at successive hearings may influence the decision of the Office in a negative way!
Rights and Obligations of a Person Awaiting the Granting of the Refugee Status
Foreigners who have applied for the granting of the refugee status are entitled to social assistance and medical care provided by the Office for Foreigners. An application for assistance should be submitted to the Department for Social Assistance in one of the two reception centres in Biała Podlaska and Podkowa Leśna - Dębak. Social assistance may consist in granting accommodation in the centre or financial benefits for covering the accommodation expenses.
Foreigners waiting for their applications to be considered have the right to:
- be assisted in a voluntary departure from the territory of the Republic of Poland - further information: Help in a voulntary return
- free contact with a representative of the UNHCR or with other organizations that help refugees
- work if the first instance proceedings lasts longer that 6 months (under a certificate issued by the Head of the Office for Foreigners and the Temporary Certificate of the Foreigner’s Identity)
- express his opinion on the evidence and materials gathered and the requests made before a decision is issued.
Foreigners awaiting consideration of their applications are obliged to:
- report upon the request of the Head of the Office for Repatriation and Aliens to provide testimonials or clarifications
- make available all evidence confirming the circumstances that justify the granting of the refugee status
- inform about each change of their place of residence
- stay on the territory of the Republic of Poland until the day of delivery of the final decision on the refugee status
Initiation of the proceedings for the granting of the refugee status shall cause by operation of law:
- invalidation of the visa issued to the foreigner (in the event that both the proceedings for the granting of the refugee status and for the issuing or prolongation of a visa have been initiated in relation to the foreigner, the proceedings for the issuing or prolongation of a visa shall be remitted)
- expiry of a decision on obligation to leave the territory of Poland
- stay of executing a decision on expulsion until the day of delivering to the foreigner a final decision on the granting of the refugee status
First Instance Decision on the Refugee Status
A decision should be issued by the Office for Foreigners (first instance) within 6 months from the date of the submission of the application. Otherwise the Office is obliged to set a new time limit for consideration of the case. Moreover, the decision on refusal to grant the refugee status due to the manifest unfoundedness of the application should be issued within 30 days from the date of submitting the application.
In the course of the proceedings for granting the refugee status, the Office for Foreigners may issue one of the following four decisions:
- to grant the refugee status
- to grant subsidiary protectionto
- to grant the permit for tolerated stay
- to issue the decision on expulsion from the territory of Poland
Since the decision is sent to the foreigner’s place of residence, it is crucial to inform the Office of any changes of address. If you are not at home, the postman will leave a notice (avizo) which you should take to the post office. Unless you collect the document from the post office within 14 days, it will be sent back to the Office for Foreigners. It will assumed that the decision has been successfully delivered to the foreigner on the last day of the 14-day time limit. Therefore, the foreigner will lose the chance of appealing against the decision.
Appeal against the decision in the first instance
In case of refusal to grant one of the forms of international protection, a foreigner has the right to appeal to the second instance authority, i.e. the Council for Refugees within 14 days from the delivery of the decision. If the application has been considered “manifestly unfounded,” the appeal has to be lodged within 5 days. The appeal should be submitted to the Office for Foreigners (not the appellate authority, i.e. the Council for Refugees). The appeal can be submitted in person at the office counter (33 Taborowa St, Warsaw) during the working hours. The foreigner should take a copy of the appeal. The original should be left at the office. The foreigner should ask the officer to acknowledge the receipt of the document (the stamp with the date and the officer’s signature). The stamp confirms that the appeal was submitted at the Office on a given day. The appeal can be also sent by registered post. You will receive then a postal receipt which indicates the date of the submission of the appeal. The appeal is considered to be submitted on the day when it was sent by post, not on the day of its receipt by the Office for Foreigners.
Second Instance Decision
The Council for Refugees is obliged to issue a decision within one to two months. The Council has the right to uphold the first instance decision, remand the case for re-examination or issue its own decision: grant the refugee status or supplementary protection. The Council also has the right to summon the foreigner for an interview and to examine witnesses.
If the foreigner is not satisfied with the second instance decision, he/she has the right of complaint to the Regional Administrative Court. The complaint has to be lodged within 30 days from receiving the Council’s decision. The complaint should be sent within this time limit through the Council for Refugees. If the decision issued by the Regional Administrative Court is also a negative one, the foreigner has the right of complaint to the Supreme Administrative Court.
Attention: The receipt of the decision ends the administrative proceedings for granting the refugee status. The foreigner can take further legal steps, but he/she is no longer eligible for the social assistance granted to foreigners applying for the status. The foreigner loses the right to benefit from the assistance provided by centres for foreigners. Detailed information on the court proceedings can be found in the brochure published by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Me in the asylum procedure. About the rights and responsibilities under the procedure:
Detailed Information Concerning the Decision on Granting the Refugee Status:
A person who has received a decision on granting the refugee status has the right:
- to reside in Poland – a refugee cannot be expelled from Poland, except for extraordinary circumstances specified in the article 32 and 33 of the Geneva Convention. A 3-year residence permit card is issued for a foreigner granted the refugee status and a 2-year one for a foreigner granted subsidiary protection
- to work – a foreigner has the right to work on the same terms as a Polish citizen (no special work permit is necessary)
- to carry out economic activity on the same terms as a Polish citizen; to social care services; family, care and parental allowance.
- to health insurance: a foreigner can insure himself/herself voluntarily in the National Health Fund or is obliged to do so under the work contract; a foreigner can be provided health insurance if registered as an unemployed.
- to integration help (an application for granting integration help should be filed with the District Family Support Centre within 60 days from the date of being granted the refugee status or supplementary protection. The application should be enclosed with copies of the decision and the documents issued by the Office for Foreigners.
- to education in primary, secondary, high and higher schools on the same terms as a Polish citizen
- to travel abroad – foreigners who have been granted the refugee status receive the so-called Geneva passport, a travel document entitling them to enter without a visa the countries that signed the European agreement of April 20, 1959; foreigners under supplementary protection are allowed to enter without a visa the Schengen countries.
- foreigners who have been granted the refugee status or subsidiary protection are allowed to apply for the residence permit after 5 years of a continuous stay in Poland.
The refugee status is also granted to the foreigner’s spouse and minor child if they are included in the application for granting the refugee status and to the foreigner’s minor child born on the territory of the Republic of Poland.
Further information on the rights and obligations of foreigners granted the refugee status in Poland can be found in the brochure “Refugee status – supplementary protection in Poland – what next?”
Subsidiary protection is granted to people who were refused the refugee status and who, in case they returned to their country, could face a real threat of suffering serious harm, i.e.:
- death sentence or execution
- tortures or inhuman or degrading treatment
- serious and individualised threat to life or health resulting from common use of violence towards civilians in the situation of international or internal armed conflict
A person granted subsidiary protection has the same rights as a person with the refugee status. Foreigners who have received a positive decision on granting the refugee status or supplementary protection are included in the Individual Integration Programme, which obliges them to study the Polish language and actively search for work (after having registered in the Employment Agency). Every participant in the programme receives a monthly allowance of 446-1175 PLN.
Tolerated stay permit can be granted to foreigners who have been refused the refugee status and supplementary protection, and who cannot be expelled to their country of origin for the following reasons:
- a foreigner could be expelled only to a country in which his/her basic rights such as the right to life, freedom and personal safety would be threatened, or in which he/she could be subjected to torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment or could be forced to work.
- expulsion would violate the right to family life or the children rights
- expulsion is unenforceable due to reasons beyond the authority executing the decision on expulsion and beyond the foreigner
A person granted a tolerated stay permit is entitled to:
- a residence permit in Poland and a residence card valid for a year
- the same rights as refugees and foreigners granted subsidiary protection, except for the right to integration help and to free higher education. Besides, access to social assistance is limited (only benefits such as shelter, meals, necessary clothing or purpose benefit). Foreigners granted a tolerated stay permit are allowed to travel abroad on the same terms as those granted supplementary protection. the right to apply for a permit to settle after 10 years of continuous stay in Poland.
A person who was refused the refugee status:
- Is granted another form of protection (in the course of the same proceedings)
- is granted subsidiary protection
- is granted a tolerated stay permit
- Or commits himself/herself to leave the territory of the Republic of Poland (decides to expel the foreigner), except for cases when the foreigner:
- a residence permit for a fixed period,
- a permit to settle,
- a residence permit for a long-term resident of the European Union,
- a residence permit or a permanent residence permit,
- or a tolerated stay permit.
- is remanded, is serving a custodial sentence, or a preventive measure in the form of prohibition to leave the territory of the Republic of Poland has been administered against him/her
- is obliged to leave the territory of the Republic of Poland under the decision on expulsion, the execution of which has been stayed.
- is a spouse of a Polish citizen or the spouse of a foreigner who has a permit to settle or a residence permit for a long-term resident of the European Union.
The foreigner is obliged to leave the territory of the Republic of Poland within 30 days from the date of delivery of the final decision on refusal to grant the refugee status if:
- the decision shall contain a ruling on expulsion (deportation)
- the execution of the ruling on expulsion has been stayed and the decision on refusal to grant the refugee status does not contain a ruling on granting supplementary protection or a tolerated stay permit.
Other Forms of Protection in Poland
In Poland, there are two other forms of international protection, yet they have not been used in practice so far:
Temporary protection can be applied to foreigners who come to Poland in great numbers due to a war, an ethnic conflict or gross human rights violations in their country of origin. Temporary protection is granted until a return to the previous place of residence is possible, but no longer than for a year (the period of protection can be prolonged twice by 6 months).
A person granted temporary protection receives:
- A residence card and a residence permit for a fixed period valid for a year.
- Free board and lodging (if he/she has no income).
- The right to free medical care and the right to work – a foreigner is allowed to work on the same terms as a Polish citizen (no special work permit is necessary).
- The right to carry out economic activity and the right to education in primary, secondary, high and higher schools on the same terms as a Polish citizen.
- The right to obtain a Polish travel document unless he/she has another one.
Under the Polish law, unlike in most other countries, granting asylum and the refugee status are not equivalent procedures. A foreigner may be granted asylum in the Republic of Poland on his/her request when it is necessary for providing him/her with protection and when it is in a good interest of the Republic of Poland (as opposed to the refugee status). A foreigner who has been granted asylum shall be granted a permit to settle.
A foreigner who applies for granting asylum staying:
- on the territory of the Republic of Poland – is obliged to subject himself/herself to procedure of taking fingerprints and photographs
- abroad – is obliged to enclose a photograph to the application and after entering the territory of the Republic of Poland on the basis of the residence visa for the purpose of participation in asylum procedure or in connection with granting asylum to him/her – to subject himself/herself to procedure of taking fingerprints
The application should be submitted to the consul of the Republic of Poland or the commanding officer of the Border Guard.
Further information on the proceedings for granting the refugee status can be found in the following publications:
Act of June 13, 2013 on protection of foreigners on the territory of the Republic of Poland
Prawa i obowiązki uchodźców w Polsce (Rights and Responsibilities of Refugees in Poland), published by the Rule of Law Institute
Ja w procedurze uchodźczej. O prawach i obowiązkach w procedurze (Me in the asylum procedure. About the rights and responsibilities under the procedure), published by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
Życie w Polsce – poradnik dla uchodźców (Life in Poland – a Handbook for Refugees), published by the Vox Humana Foundation