If you are an upwardly mobile professional, you have probably already considered getting a second passport. Many people with European heritage jump at the opportunity to reclaim their citizenship through ancestry. Having an EU passport saves them time, money and hassle – and not just at airports.
Poland’s citizenship laws are among the most flexible and liberal around. With over 40 million-strong Polish diaspora worldwide, no wonder more than 10,000 people go through the process of Polish citizenship confirmation every year. And since 2004, Polish citizenship equals access to the EU, making getting hold of a Polish passport even more attractive.
But what are some of the pitfalls people encounter? In this article, I will look at seven common mistakes and what you can do to avoid them if you want that elusive second passport sooner rather than later.
1) Accepting that job in Europe too soon
The once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity comes well … once in a life time. Who wouldn’t want to take up that dream job in Berlin, Brussels or Barcelona? It pays well, it puts you amongst the beautiful people and your LinkedIn profile has never looked this good. Sure, you said to the head-hunter, I have European citizenship. Yep. My grandpa’s Polish. Nah. No need for visas. The small detail of not having the citizenship confirmed? It won’t take long. A month or two, max.
TIP: Allow plenty of time to prepare your application. The more thorough and complete it is, the quicker it gets processed. Ensure the forms are filled in correctly in Polish. Attach relevant documentation including original evidence linking you to your ancestors, duly certified birth and marriage records, sworn translations, filing fees and a detailed family history. By law, the Polish government should process your application within 30 days but in reality, most cases take up to 12 months or even longer. Delays are due to incomplete or poorly presented applications, lack of ancestral documentation and procedural red tape. It is also true that many Voivodeship Offices in charge of Polish citizenship applications are understaffed and overworked. So yes, allow 12 months. Or more.
2) Asking your babcia for help
Polish grandmas are kind, generous and resilient. But asking them to help you with your Polish citizenship paperwork is rarely a good idea. Unless she’s one of those indestructible ladies with a crystal mind and superhuman determination, not only will she struggle with the long, unwieldy forms, she may get anxious about the process and its outcome. Babcias are good for information, though. In fact, visit her as much as you can, as often as you can and record everything she remembers about her past, family connections and any other detail she can share with you. First-hand information is great in filling in family history blanks and you will thank her for it. Once she’s gone, it too will go.
TIP: Ask your grandma or other family members to help you draw up a family tree and give you copies of any old documents, letters and photos. Every family has a box of long forgotten papers – often a treasure trove of priceless information. You know that weird uncle you haven’t spoken to since 1986? Worth giving him a call.
3) Going through the Polish consulate
Unless you have all the paperwork in order, speak the language and can put up with Polish bureaucracy, don’t even try. Sadly, despite many improvements in Poland, customer service at Polish consulates abroad hasn’t really changed much at all. Don’t take our word for it, just check out their ratings on line. Better still, try giving them a call. Also, bear in mind that the consulate will not process your application for confirmation of citizenship. Yes, they will collect it and might provide you with rudimentary and often unreliable advice but since they only act as an agency, your application will be sent for processing to the very same Voivodeship Office in Warsaw along with everybody else’s application. Since 2013, you are also required to nominate a representative in Poland to liaise on your behalf with the Polish government.
TIP: The consular option will work really well for people who speak Polish, have excellent documents and can see past the not-so-great customer service. If you are prepared to do the leg work, including gathering and certifying of documentation, filling in forms and sourcing a sworn translator, the consulate is the best route for you. Just be aware that the costs of a do-it-yourself endeavour will eventually add up and you’re likely to pay as much as you would going through a professional citizenship company.
4) Going for the cheapest option
We’re not into bashing our competition – there is plenty of work around for everybody. But when it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. Working with citizenship companies in Poland might seem cheaper initially and they promise you the world. The next thing you know, as soon as your payment has been collected, your emails don’t get replied to and your phone calls go unanswered – that’s if you can find their phone number. How do we know this? We are often asked to salvage other companies’ cases by people who come to us in frustration. When Polaron began working in this space in 2003, there was only one other company in the world providing Polish citizenship services. Mr Ilan Charsky was a lawyer in Israel who predicted ahead of everybody else that Polish citizenship was going to be big. Unfortunately, he died in 2006, leaving a trail of unhappy customers. Since then, quite a few other Polish citizenship companies cropped up and there are some one-man operators and lawyers in Poland who provide citizenship services on the side. It’s up to you who you go with but just like with everything else, you get what you pay for.
5) Not understanding the Polish law
That’s a big one. The citizenship law in Poland is really one of the most flexible pieces of legislation in the world. It’s simple: if you have one Polish parent, grandparent or great-grandparent, you qualify for Polish citizenship through descent. However, there are several laws, including military service and non-dual citizenship conventions, that intersect with the Polish citizenship law, and this is where the complexity comes in. Bearing in mind that the application for citizenship confirmation is an administrative process, knowing how the law operates is still necessary so that your time and money isn’t wasted.
TIP: Familiarise yourself with the legislation. Nowadays, there are many forums and translated resources that provide you with background information on the legislation. If you are working through a professional company, they should be able to provide you with this information easily.
6) Thinking it’s going to be easy, getting annoyed and chucking it all in
When they say “everything worth doing is worth doing well”, there’s no mention of how difficult that might actually become. Each citizenship case is different, each case officer is different and each application is unique. Once submitted, an application is part of an administrative process and can go through unchallenged. It can also encounter a number of curveballs and unexpected bumps in the road along the way. You might be asked to provide more evidence about a specific ancestor, your case might be suspended so that additional research can be undertaken or you might even be issued with a rejection for procedural reasons. Perseverance and patience are key to the positive outcome of your application. Getting frustrated with the Polish government will get you nowhere, as will not complying with their requests and not searching high and low for additional information if requested.
TIP: Don’t be phased when you encounter delays or hold ups. Stay strong and focused on the outcome. The best cure is prevention, of course, so put effort into preparing your case as well as possible to minimise the chances of hiccups along the way.
7) Being federal parliamentarian in Australia
We’ve all heard of several federal parliamentarians who recently had to resign due to their dual citizenship status. As far as we are concerned, most people in Australia whose families arrived here as immigrants hold or are eligible for dual citizenship. So, who knows? More scandals may lie ahead…
TIP: Check your citizenship status before going for that top position.
Did you find yourself nodding in recognition of your own journey towards EU citizenship? Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to paperwork. That’s life. Now that you’re aware of the little things that have been holding you back, you’re a huge step ahead of where you were moments ago.
Eva Hussain is the founder of Australia based citizenship services company Polaron.