Work visas in exchange for bribes? Poland’s government under pressure
Shortly before the parliamentary elections, Poland is rocked by an affair about corruption in the issuing of visas. A blow for the ruling national conservatives. The PiS is in trouble.
Poland’s national conservative ruling party PiS is promoting its tough stance against migrants in the election campaign. When it comes to making voters afraid of strangers, no cliché is too shallow for the PiS, no caricature is too dark. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently claimed during an election campaign appearance in Katowice that in many places in France, Germany or Sweden you cannot go out on the streets in the dark. Because “gangs of young Muslim migrants” are rampant there and are “causing hell for women.”
Of all things, an affair surrounding alleged corruption in the issuance of visas is now putting the PiS in trouble almost a month before the parliamentary elections on October 15th. The question is whether work visas were issued en masse to citizens of African and Asian countries – and whether this was quicker if the applicants paid hefty bribes through intermediaries. The federal government is also concerned and is demanding clarification from Warsaw. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) wants to talk to her Polish counterpart. So far, Berlin is not expecting any direct effects on Germany.
How big is the scale really?
Last week, the Polish Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it was investigating seven people on suspicion that they had expedited the issuance of work visas in return for payment. Three people were arrested. The public prosecutor’s office spoke of irregularities in the issuance of “several hundred work visas” in Arab countries as well as in India, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said the prosecutor’s investigation involves 200 visas.
If you believe the Polish media and the opposition, then the extent is significantly larger. Opposition leader Donald Tusk from the liberal-conservative Citizens Platform (PO) cited the number of 250,000 work visas that had been issued in Africa and Asia within 30 months. Two parliamentarians from his party, who took a look at Foreign Ministry documents as part of a possible parliamentary inspection in Poland, speak of 350,000 visas.
Government speaks of “little affairs”
The PiS is trying to downplay the matter. It’s not a visa affair, but at most a “little affair,” said party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. But on Friday, recently fired deputy foreign minister Piotr Wawrzyk was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. According to the government, he is said to have tried to take his own life. Polish media had accused Wawrzyk of being the mastermind behind the corrupt visa issuing system. He was responsible for consular affairs. At the end of August, Wawrzyk was suddenly fired and the feared anti-corruption agency CBA searched his department.
Poland is currently debating the issue of migration – but under different circumstances than the PiS, which has been in power since 2015, imagined. The national conservatives boast that they have protected their country, which has taken in almost a million refugees from Ukraine, from immigration of people of non-Christian faith from the Middle East or Asia.
5.5 meter high metal fence on the border with Belarus
Poland has erected a 5.5 meter high metal fence with motion detectors and night vision cameras on the EU’s external border with neighboring Belarus. Poland and the EU Commission accuse Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of systematically bringing migrants from crisis regions to the border. The border region is guarded martially: In addition to the 5,000 border guards and 500 police officers, there are 4,000 soldiers on duty and another 6,000 in reserve. Human rights organizations regularly complain about so-called pushbacks – i.e. rejections of people seeking protection at the external borders, which are illegal under international law.
In a referendum parallel to the parliamentary election, the PiS wants to vote on four questions. Two of them concern the topic of migration. “Do you support removing the barrier on the border between Poland and Belarus?” is one – even if no well-known opposition representative is currently calling for this.
PiS government rejects the EU asylum compromise
The other question deals with the EU asylum compromise, which provides for the mandatory admission of refugees. The PiS government rejects this. The question in the referendum is formulated accordingly suggestively. “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa under the mandatory admission mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?” The PiS’s calculation was to mobilize its voters with these questions. But that could now backfire.
Tweet from Morawiecki on the subject of migration