This page provides a general overview of access to international protection procedures in Poland and other forms of legal stay. Where possible, always try to consult with a lawyer about your case. (A list of available lawyers available here)
What is International Protection?
A person may be in need of international protection if they are afraid to return to their country of origin because they are in danger of persecution or serious harm due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a political social group. Under international and Polish law, specific criteria must be met to determine eligibility to be recognized as a refugee.
International protection allows a person to stay in Poland instead of being sent back to a country where they are afraid to go because of persecution.
International protection is not automatically granted. People hoping to get this protection must apply and show the government that they qualify.
Not everyone qualifies for international protection.
In the European Union (EU), only one EU country can review an application for international protection, usually the first country of entry. This is called the Dublin Regulation.
This means that if a person first enters the EU in Poland:
- Poland is the only EU country that can review their international protection claim.
- They will likely be sent back to Poland if they travel to another EU country and apply for international protection there.
There are limited exceptions to this rule (such as holding a valid visa for another EU country, or family reunification).
NOTE: International protection is often called “asylum”. This is not the case in Poland.
In Poland, the law defines different types of protection:
- International protection – refugee status and subsidiary protection
- Asylum – a separate, national form of protection
- Humanitarian or tolerated stay – national form of legalization of stay in case there is no possibility of deportation/return
Who Processes International Protection Claims?
In Poland, the Government, not UNHCR, is responsible for processing international protection claims and recognizing someone as a refugee.
Applications for international protection must be filed through Polish Border Guard. The Polish Office for Foreigners (OFF) is then responsible for processing claims for international protection and making a decision on granting protection.
For more information on submitting an international protection claim in Poland
(Polish, Russian, English): https://www.gov.pl/web/udsc-en/lodging-an-application-for-international-protection
Who can apply for international protection in Poland?
A person has a right to apply for international protection at any time if they:
- Are on Polish territory (including in detention) or at a Polish border
- Fear that they would be persecuted in their country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion or, in case of return, would be at serious risk of the death penalty and execution, torture, inhumane treatment, or a serious threat to their life because of widespread violence or armed conflict.
A person can include other family members in their application (such as a minor children or spouse) only if the relevant family member is physically present during the submission of the application.
You cannot apply for international protection from abroad.
How to apply for international protection in Poland
If you believe that you and any relevant family members meet the criteria to apply for international protection, you must clearly express your intent to apply for international protection to a Border Guard Officer.
You can submit an application for international protection:
- When entering Poland at a border point
- Within a detention facility, reception center, or other official location
- At any time from within Poland by visiting any Border Guard unit or outpost
For those unable to go directly to Border Guard (persons with disability, older persons, pregnant women, single parents, foster children, hospitalized or arrested): a written declaration of intent to apply for international protection can be submitted by post or e-mail. In such cases, the application for international protection is received and registered by Border Guard according to the person’s residence.
What documentation is needed?
While submitting an application, you should present all official documents (including identity and travel documents) and other forms of evidence that might corroborate your claim for international protection and data provided in the application.
This applies to the applicant and all family members covered by the application.
What happens after I submit my application in Poland?
- First, Border Guard registers your application, which includes a short interview, photos and fingerprints, and a medical examination. The application must be submitted in Polish by Border Guard on a special form, based on the short interview.
**You have a right to an interpreter in a language you understand when submitting your application
- Next, Border Guard submits your application to the Polish Office for Foreigners (Szef Urzędu do Spraw Cudzoziemców).
**If Border Guard cannot register your application immediately, they should record your declaration and notify you about the date of registration.
- The Office for Foreigners initiates a review of your application .
- Each adult applicant receives a document (temporary certificate of foreigner’s identity) confirming their identity and authorizing them (and minor children included in the application) to reside in Poland.
- The Office for Foreigners interviews you about your claim.
- The Office for Foreigners issues a decision (within 6 months, though this sometimes takes longer)
During these procedures, a court may decide to place you in detention.
This may happen if the Polish government needs to verify your identity or collect information relevant to your procedure, or for other reasons related to your entry and legal stay in Poland.
You can be held in detention for a maximum of 6 months. However, a court may decide to extend the length of your detention, including if you are in return procedures (a procedure initiated by the Border Guard to facilitate return to country of origin/residence) .
During your court hearings:
- You have a right to be heard by the court (remotely or in-person).
- You have a right to assistance from an interpreter in a language you understand.
You have a right to a lawyer
Once in detention, you have a right to appeal the court’s decision to detain or to extend your detention. Information on how to appeal is located at the bottom of the court’s decision on detention.
You have a right and obligation to stay in Poland while your application is pending.
I am the spouse of the main applicant. What will the procedure look like for me?
You are not obligated to join the same international protection application as your spouse (if you are applying for different reasons). You can submit a separate claim.
If you join your spouse’s claim, and your spouse is the principal applicant:
- You must provide written consent to join the application (included on the application form for international protection).
- Your spouse has the right (“power of attorney”) to represent your interests in proceedings.
- Your spouse will receive all issued decisions on the international protection claim.
- The Office for Foreigners may decide not to conduct a separate interview with you on your claim, but you have the right to submit a request for a separate interview.
Can I work while my application is pending?
Once you submit an application, you are not allowed to work for 6 months from the date of submission. This is true even if you were living in Poland before applying.
After 6 months, if there is no decision in your case, you can apply for a work permit from the Office for Foreigners. The Office for Foreigners will issue a document confirming your right to work in Poland while waiting for your decision.
Can I appeal a negative decision?
If the Office for Foreigners denies your claim for international protection in Poland, you have several chances to appeal:
- You have a right to appeal to the Refugee Board (Rada do Spraw Uchodźców). You may file the appeal in your own language. The time for appeal is limited (usually 1-2 weeks). The deadline is written at the bottom of your decision. You have the right to get State financed legal assistance to file this appeal. (For a list of available lawyers, visit: https://www.gov.pl/web/udsc/bezplatna-pomoc-prawna).
- If the decision of the Refugee Board is also negative: you have a right to appeal again to the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw within 30 days from the day you receive the decision.
For more information, visit the Office for Foreigners’ website (Polish, Russian, English): https://www.gov.pl/web/udsc-en/procedure-for-granting-international-protection
Other options for legal stay in Poland
International Protection is not the only option for legal stay in Poland. Other avenues may be available for citizens of certain countries and under certain circumstances, including (but not limited to):
During the review of your application for International Protection, the Polish government may instead decide to grant subsidiary protection if returning to your country of origin may put you at risk of serious harm from a death sentence or impending execution, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, a serious and individualized life or health hazard as a result of common use of violence towards civilians in a situation of an international or internal military conflict, and due to this risk the applicant may not or does not wish to return to the country of origin.
Other than applying for international protection, you can also apply for asylum in Poland under domestic law, when it is necessary to ensure your protection and when it is justified by an important interest of the Republic of Poland.
- Submitting from Poland: you are obliged to undergo fingerprinting and photographing
- Submitting from abroad (by mail): you are obliged to attach a photograph to the application and, upon arrival in the territory of Poland undergo fingerprinting
For more information (Polish, Russian, English):
Visa Regime (Temporary Stay)
Citizens of certain countries holding biometric passports can travel to the Schengen States without a visa for a period of 90 days within any 180-day period. The visa-free regime does not give the right to study, work, or live in the EU.
Work Permits and Programmes
- Work permit: issued by a Voivode upon employer request; 5 types (A-E):
- Seasonal work permit: type S– authorises a foreigner to perform work for 9 months in a calendar year in subclasses of activities considered seasonal.
- Declaration of an employer to entrust a job to a foreigner: registered in a local labor office by an employer for citizens of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. Entitles non-seasonal work without work permit for a period of 6 months during 12 consecutive months.
- Temporary residence and work permit: issued by a Voivode on request by a foreigner. Permits both stay and work.
- Poland Business Harbour program: a comprehensive package facilitating relocation to Poland dedicated to entrepreneurs and IT specialists of certain countries