1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Poland's visa scandal: EU wants answers from PiS on bribes

September 23, 2023

Poland's Foreign Ministry has rejected accusations that officials accepted bribes in exchange for visas. But the EU isn't satisfied with the explanations coming from Warsaw.

The Polish-Ukrainian border with a line of cars
The Polish-Ukrainian border crossing Dorohusk-JagodzinImage: Karol Serewis/ZUMA/IMAGO

On Wednesday, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson sent a list of questions to Poland's Foreign Ministry in response to reports that the country's consulates issued hundreds of thousands of visas in Asia and Africa in exchange for bribes.

Though the answer from Poland came quick, Johannsson's spokeswoman said it was "not sufficient."

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva JohanssonImage: MENELAOS MYRILLAS/SOOC/AFP/Getty Images

In the letter, Polish Undersecretary of State Pawel Jablonski rejected all reports of bribes. He claimed that the matter has been blown out of proportion by the media and the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

"The narrative appearing in some media, as well as in statements made by representatives of the political opposition, has nothing to do with the truth and is aimed at creating information chaos," Jablonski wrote in his letter, which was made available to DW in Brussels.

Polish Undersecretary of State Pawel Jablonski
Polish Undersecretary of State Pawel JablonskiImage: Jack Parrock/DW

500,000 Polish visas

Poland's Foreign Ministry confirms that an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Agency in Poland since July 2022 has so far uncovered 268 cases involving bribery of consular officials. A deputy foreign minister has already been dismissed, and seven people have been arrested for questioning. The period of the investigation covers 18 months, according to the ministry, though the exact time frame is not mentioned. But, during the investigation period, Poland issued 500,000 visas, it said, which would mean that the bribery cases affected only a small fraction.

These 500,000 visas are supposed to be Type D Schengen visas, also called national visas. They only entitle the holder to enter and work in Poland over a longer period of time. Travel to other states in the Schengen zone without checks at the internal borders is not permitted. Eighty percent of these visas had been issued to people from Ukraine or Belarus.

The total number of issued national visas seems high, certainly higher than figures that Polish media and the opposition party had disseminated, though they had not offered sources for their numbers. By comparison, Germany issued about 640,000 Type D Schengen visas in 2021 and 2022 combined. The Polish Foreign Ministry did not provide the numbers of Type C Schengen visas, which are valid for only 90 days and grant holders travel throughout the Schengen area for the period in question.

EU: 'Very specific questions'

The information provided by Poland is not exhaustive, European Commission spokeswoman Anitta Hipper told DW. "We still need a reply to all the questions by third of October, as initially asked by the commissioner," Hipper said. "The commissioner has asked very specific questions about the Schengen-wide implications, asking about clarity on the number of visas and consulates involved. We need clarity on the situation."

An EU visa
EU member states collectively issue millions of visas every year Image: Imago Images/photothek/T. Koehler

Poland's Foreign Ministry says all contracts with consulting and visa brokerage firms have been terminated. The head of the Foreign Ministry's legal department has also been dismissed.

The Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported on Friday that the country has issued as many as 2 million national visas for work since 2020, according to the EU statistics authority.

The reports are playing a major role in the election campaign between the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) and the center-right opposition Civic Platform, led by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Civic Platform accuses the government of hypocriticaly railing against migration while issuing visas in exchange for bribes.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, has also demanded clarification from her Polish counterpart. This year, the federal police have recorded an increase in the number of migrants at the German-Polish border.

Faeser does not want to introduce stationary border controls at this internal border within the Schengen zone, and would rather rely on conducting searches in neighboring countries, but said on Friday that she could no longer rule it out. Several hundred additional police officers have been assigned to these random searches, but it remains unclear whether there is a connection to Poland's visa practices.

This article originally appeared in German.

Poland: Political candidates incite xenophobia

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union