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Foreigner Services in Polish Provincial Offices: Delays and Violations Found by NIK Audit

REPORTS & ANALYSISForeigner Services in Polish Provincial Offices: Delays and Violations Found by NIK Audit

The Supreme Audit Office (NIK) found that the public administration bodies it audited did not fully ensure proper, efficient, and reliable service to Polish citizens and foreigners. NIK particularly criticized the handling of foreigner services in provincial offices, finding violations of regulations in 60% of the cases examined. The irregularities mainly involved inaction by the offices and, sometimes, egregious delays in the proceedings. It’s worth noting that the average waiting time for the consideration of a foreigner’s residence application in some offices was a year, with the longest wait exceeding seven years. In other examined cases, such as passport services and vehicle registration and driver’s license issuance at county offices, the service was provided at an appropriate level, though not without irregularities.

The changing international situation over the past few years has led to an increased influx of foreigners to Poland, especially from Eastern Europe. Attracted by Poland’s favorable job market on one hand, these foreigners also seek safe asylum from war, persecution, and political, religious, and ethnic repression on the other. The scale of this phenomenon is illustrated by the increase in the number of cases regarding the legalization of stay in Poland. While in 2018, foreigners submitted over 228,500 residence applications, by 2022, this number had nearly reached 542,000. In total, from 2018 to 2022, foreigners submitted over 1.71 million such applications, with decisions issued in nearly 1.26 million cases.

This large-scale phenomenon poses a challenge for provincial offices responsible for handling foreigner services. Their operations were also impacted by the enactment of the law of March 12, 2022, on assistance to Ukrainian citizens due to the armed conflict. Moreover, these offices also faced a significant increase in the number of applications for the issuance of passport documents to Polish citizens.

NIK audited 20 units: five provincial offices and 15 public administration bodies responsible for issuing driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations, including seven county offices and eight city offices with county rights.

Provincial Offices

Violations in the processing of foreigner cases were found in all provincial offices, in 231 cases (60% of the cases examined). These primarily concerned the prolongation of proceedings and exceeding deadlines. Numerous instances of inaction or unjustified breaks in proceedings were noted in the audited offices. The prolongation of proceedings was sometimes egregious. For example, the average time to resolve foreigner residence applications was:

  • In the Łódź provincial office: 384 days in 2021 and 171 days in 2022.
  • In the Silesian provincial office: 381 days in 2021 and 365 days in 2022.

The Silesian provincial office held the dubious record, where processing a foreigner’s temporary residence application took nearly seven years and five months.

The long waiting times for decisions create a state of legal uncertainty regarding the legality of stay in Poland, affecting both the state and the foreigners. This can lead to changes in the basis for applying for temporary residence permits, such as upon completion of studies. Additionally, prolonged proceedings sometimes discourage employers from continuing to employ foreigners. In cases where a stamp in the passport is not received, the work performed by foreigners, as well as their employment, may be considered illegal. Prolonged proceedings also negatively impact the private and family lives of foreigners waiting for a residence permit, as they cannot leave Poland to visit their families.

The audit also found violations of their rights arising from the regulations governing administrative proceedings and the hindrance or limitation of foreigners’ ability to submit complete residence applications (e.g., by the inability to submit fingerprints). It was determined, among other things, that:

  • Foreigners were repeatedly summoned to the office or to supplement documentation for separate, formal, and substantive assessment of their applications, contrary to the principles set forth in the Administrative Procedure Code;
  • Officials demanded that foreigners provide documents that the office already had or to resubmit documents whose validity had expired before the case was resolved, or documents that were not necessary for resolving the case;
  • Offices did not instruct or document the fact that they had informed foreigners of their rights and obligations and the procedure, contrary to the requirements set out in the Foreigners Act.

The audit of all five provincial offices included a total of 120 cases regarding the correctness and timeliness of passport issuance tasks. Except for one case, passport documents were issued promptly and correctly.

The audit findings indicate that the organizational structure, local conditions, and equipment of the provincial offices allowed for the performance of tasks related to foreigner services and passport services. In all audited units, there was a systematic increase in employment of staff serving foreigners during the audit period.

However, even with this increase, the number of employees was not adequate to meet the needs. At the same time, the workload on employees, particularly the number of residence applications filed, increased, especially in the provincial offices dealing with foreigners’ affairs. The largest increase in the number of residence applications per employee occurred in the Podkarpackie provincial office.

Employment in the passport service area increased the most in the Łódź Provincial Office and decreased the most in the Katowice Provincial Office.

Most offices faced a high turnover of employees, one of the main reasons being the low competitiveness of the offered salaries. In 2022, candidates for positions in provincial offices were offered salaries ranging from 3,011 to 4,582 PLN gross (on average 3,663 PLN gross). As a result, many recruitment efforts were unsuccessful (41% of recruitments were unsuccessful in the years 2018-2023), making the whole process of acquiring new employees very time-consuming. Consequently, the human resources of the provincial offices for handling matters related to foreigners were insufficient, complicating the efficient and timely execution of tasks.

In NIK’s assessment, staff shortages, high staff turnover, and low salary levels were the main reasons for the delays in proceedings and unjustified exceeding of statutory deadlines in cases concerning foreigners.

County Offices and City Offices with County Rights

The main problem with the audited units was the conduct of administrative proceedings in violation of the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Code, especially exceeding the one-month deadline for their resolution. This irregularity occurred in over half of the cases examined, in 13 out of 15 audited units.

Moreover, a significant part of the irregularities was related to the process of handling vehicle acquisition and disposal notifications, and the implementation of the obligation imposed from January 1, 2020, by the county head to impose monetary penalties for the lack or untimely submission of such notifications or failure to register a vehicle imported from abroad. In this area, it was found, among other things, that:

  • Proceedings to impose a monetary penalty were not initiated or were initiated after a long period from the date the office became aware of the vehicle owners’ violation of the aforementioned obligations. Delays reached up to 863 days;
  • Data about the sold/acquired vehicle were not entered or were entered with a delay into the Central Vehicle Registry (CEP), as a result of which, by violating the principle of registry currency, the fully reliable performance of tasks by various bodies and entities relying on CEP data was hindered. For example, in the Łódź City Hall, about 60,000 notifications of vehicle sale/purchase were not entered into CEP.

The employment status of customer service staff did not undergo significant changes and was at an adequate level. Unlike in provincial offices, there was no significant staff turnover in county offices and city offices with county rights despite the unattractive level of salaries.

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