Humanitarian visa and international protection

What is visa ?

A visa is a written permit to cross and stay in a foreign country. Citizens of countries outside the European Union must have a valid visa to enter the territory of Poland. There are two basic types of visas in the Polish legal system :

1) The Schengen visa marked with the symbol C entitling to stay in Poland or Schengen states for up to 90 days within 180 days from the date of the first entry.

2) A national visa marked with the symbol D permitting entry and continuous stay in Poland or several consecutive stays, lasting in total longer than 3 months. The period of validity of a national visa may not exceed 1 year and depends on the purpose of the foreigner’s stay.

Visas in Poland are always issued for a specific purpose. For instance, it could be a tourist visa, working visa or visa issued for a purpose of visiting family or friends. The visa should be obtained before coming to Poland at the Polish consulate competent for the place of residence or at the embassy. So, for example, a foreigner living in Iraq, must apply for a visa at the consulate in Erbil in order to come to Poland.

Humanitarian visa

The Act on Foreigners envisages possibility of issuing a visa for humanitarian reasons, due to the interest of the state or international obligations. This is a special type of visa for foreigners applying for international aid due to a humanitarian crisis in their country which is caused, for example, by war or internal conflict. In the event of a threat to the life, health or freedom of the civilian population, it is a legal tool to cross the border. It should be stressed that the issuance of a humanitarian visa depends on the interest of the state or international obligations, therefore in practice applicants often receive a negative decision from a consulate or embassy. For instance, Polish authorities granted humanitarian visas to Afghan citizens working with Poland as part of a military mission in Afghanistan. After the Taliban took power in 2021, there was a real threat to their life and freedom. The similar case concerns Belarusian citizens who fear persecution in their country after the anti-government protests in 2020. According to the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Poland issued 9,000 humanitarian visas for citizens of Belarus in 2021.

Visa application procedure, things to remember

In order to obtain a visa, you must complete and sign the visa application form, which is available on the website of the relevant consulate. Additional documents that are necessary for issuing a visa are:

- A travel document with at least two blank pages, issued within the last 10 years, with validity period expiring no earlier than 3 months after the expiry of the visa

- A photograph of the visa applicant

- Travel medical insurance

- Other supporting documents, depending on the country where the visa is being applied for

It is recommended to contact the relevant consular office for detailed information. The application for a humanitarian visa is free of charge. The visa is issued for a period not exceeding one year. If we received a negative decision from the consul, we are entitled to an application for reconsideration of the case.

I obtained a visa and I stay in Poland, what’s next ?

After entry to Poland on the basis of a humanitarian visa, it is necessary to apply for refugee status or subsidiary protection in order to legalize the stay in the territory of Poland for a long time According to Act on granting protection to foreigners within the territory of the Republic of Poland, a foreigner is granted refugee status if, due to a well-founded fear of persecution in the country of origin based on religion, nationality, political beliefs or belonging to a specific social group, he or she cannot or does not want to benefit from the protection granted by the country of origin.

If we are not persecuted due to the above criteria and therefore do not meet the conditions for granting the refugee status, we can apply for subsidiary protection given that returning to the country of origin may expose us to a real risk of serious harm. The application for granting protection is submitted to the Head of the Office for Foreigners through the commander of the Border Guard branch or post. The application examination procedure takes 6 months. During this time, we are staying on the territory of Poland on the basis of a temporary foreigner's identity certificate.

After 5 years of enjoying refugee or subsidiary protection status, a foreigner can apply for a permanent residence permit.