Poland’s Ancestry Program: How Does it Work?

Are you an American with Polish roots? If so, you might be eligible for a Polish citizenship by ancestry.

It’s an option that’ll grant you easy access to Europe. And, its requirements aren’t strict as other EU programs.

But how does it work? And what are the program’s acceptance requirements? We’ll discuss those details below!

First – Pros of the Program

You get more travel options. Poland is an EU country. And with a Polish passport, you get residence and work rights across the EU.

Plus, you don’t lose your primary citizenship.

This makes Poland a great destination to start a new life. And, it’s a way to access the European Economic Area for investment opportunities.

It’s also a way to connect to your heritage. The Polish heritage is shared by 9 million Americans, and having ties there is a comfortable arrangement to many.

Finally, it’s a lot easier than other citizenship routes.

Most European citizenship program require large investments (exceeding 6-7 digits), and that’s something many Americans cannot afford.

Second – How Does the Program Work?

The Polish Citizenship Act outlines the eligibility requirements.

Polish citizenship is granted to children on birth if any of their parents is a Polish citizen at that time (regardless of their birth location).

The Act was clarified further through Poland’s 2004 Citizenship by Ancestry legislation. The changes apply to this day.

Good News

Acceptance requirements are lenient, but how?

First, no rules exist on when an ancestor should’ve emigrated or been born in Poland. Also, there are no generational limits that can cut you off from an ancestry claim.

Basically, you’re eligible for a Polish citizenship through the most distant of your ancestors. You simply need the legal records to prove your ties.

Also, the ancestor you’ll base your claims on doesn’t need to be an emigrant from a modern-day Polish territories.

That is, if an ancestor lived in a region considered Polish before WW2, your claims may still be accepted (even if the territory is no longer Polish today).

Other “Advantageous” Requirements

Your ancestor isn’t required to have had proper Polish citizenship.

For example, Poland was part of the Russian Empire before 1918. If your ancestors was born there, then they’d be considered Russian Empire citizens, not Polish citizens.

But, you may present proof that your ancestors were born in a modern day Polish city during that time, while residing there for a long time. Those may proofs may include birth certificates, tax reports, etc.

Does the Program Have Cons?

It does, though not many.

First, Poland’s ancestry program doesn’t work like similar programs of neighboring countries.

For example, Poland will not allow you to claim a citizenship that your ancestors lost or forfeited many years ago. So ancestry ties are not enough.

To qualify, your ancestor’s Polish citizenship must have passed through each generation reaching you.

Basically, the program grants you a citizenship you were eligible for by birth all along, even if that right was unknown to you or your parents.

And as a result, this isn’t a citizenship you “claim.” It’s a right you ask for. So you’re not required to pass any tests to receive it.

The Consequences

This may disqualify many Polish Americans considering an ancestry citizenship. With that, it’s still worth investing the time to see if the option exists for you.

To make that process easier, we’ll discuss some situations where your ancestors may have lost their citizenship.

Third – Program’s History, and Some Complexities to Consider

The program begins with Poland’s citizenship Act.

This Act was written in a critical time of Polish history (1920 to 1951), essentially made in the span of two world wars.

As a result, the Act contains many odd requirements and rules.

However, those rules make sense in the context of a world war, and the displacement brought to many Polish citizens at the time.

What Are Those Rules?

As mentioned earlier, your ancestor’s birth date does not matter. The date of them leaving Poland may even be decades before the World Wars.

However, if your ancestor’s child was born outside Poland before 1920, then at that time, they wouldn’t have inherited Polish citizenship.

This is where the citizenship chain is cut, disqualifying you from citizenship claims.

But why 1920? It’s because 1920 marks the years Poland’s Citizenship Act was first announced, allowing for Polish children to inherit citizenship.

However, if your ancestor’s child was born after 1920 (even abroad), then they’d still be eligible for Polish citizenship.

Another rule is immigration related.

If an ancestor immigrated and naturalized in another country from 1920-1951, they’d still be allowed to keep a Polish citizenship.

Thus, they’d still be considered Polish citizens, (unless they intentionally renounced that citizenship at a consulate).

Other Pitfalls to Consider

A male ancestor loses their Polish citizenship if they…

  • Acquired citizenship from another country (while)
  • Turning 50 between 1920-1938 or 60 between 1938-1951

The dates listed above are relative to Poland’s compulsory military service during those times.

Also, a male ancestor loses Polish citizenship if they:

  • Naturalized in a different country (while)
  • Being enlisted in a foreign country’s military before 1951 (or) having done public service before 1951 in his new naturalized country

The only exception applies to ancestors who did military services on the US’ side during WW2. This will not deprive them of Polish citizenship.

Do Those Rules Matter?

Not at all. Those rules matter little if your ancestor passed citizenship to his children before losing his own.

Prior to those rules, Polish laws denied citizenship to all children younger than 18 if an individual lost his citizenship.

For example, if a great-grandfather immigrated to the US, was naturalized, then worked for the US government, he would lose his Polish citizenship. As a consequence, all his underage children lose their citizenship too.

This in turn would disqualify you from the ancestry program.

What About Female Ancestors?

The situation is a little different here. The following rules applied before 1951…

Between 1920 and 1951, Polish law specified that children born within wedlock took their father’s citizenship. However, children born out of wedlock took the mother’s citizenship.

If a Polish female ancestor married a foreigner pre-1951, she would lose the Polish citizenship. This also applies if she acquired citizenship in a foreign country before 1951

Thus, the only way for a female immigrating ancestor to pass a Polish citizenship was to:

  • Give birth to her children (without marrying non-Polish persons) while…
  • Not being naturalized in her new homeland

The previous rules would change after 1951 – creating a lot of confusion in the process.

However, those are just some of the nuances related to eligibility requirements. To know more, you can always contact us with your special case for an inquiry.

Fourth – What’s the Application Process?

Assuming you qualify, congrats! Now you need to go through the paperwork to claim your citizenship rights.

The citizenship application should be submitted (by your or a service provider) in Warsaw.

If this doesn’t suit you, you can do so at the closest Polish consulate in your home country, though this will increase the processing time.

And speaking of processing times…

They Might be Longer than You Expect

COVID has negatively impacted processing times for all citizenship programs. Expect response schedules to double in length.

That is, if responses were issued within three months – expect that to increase to six months (which is still reasonable).

Assuming you have children (underage or not), they can still apply with you. After all, if you qualify, then they’ll qualify too.

The whole idea behind the program is to confirm your Polish citizenship rights. And it is a right your children inherit too.

This is something we recommend you do. Your application case should be drafted to include your children from the start.

You may even include all family members who share the same qualifying ancestor!

Just keep in-mind that your spouse will not receive special treatment through this program.

They can still travel with you to Poland and get permanent residency. And after two years, they may naturalize there (assuming they were married to you for three years).

Finally – Getting a Passport

Getting a passport takes a little longer than acquiring citizenship.

Individuals of Polish descent can receive a passport after being in Poland within a year. And this also applies to those who don’t qualify for the ancestral program!

You can do so by getting a Karta Polaka (Pole’s Card), which is an excellent alternative if you still want the passport.

Getting a Karta Polaka grants you work rights in Poland without a work permit. You can easily get residence, start a company, apply for free at a public university, and benefit from Poland’s public health emergency services.

You may even request financial support from Poland’s government.

Even better, after residing in Poland for a year, you can naturalize as a Polish citizen!

The only requirements are:

  • Proof that you speak Polish on a basic level
  • Are aware of Polish traditions
  • Proof that a parent/grandparent (or) two grandparents had Polish citizenship or were Poles

The first two will be tested through interviews at a Polish consulate.

If you can’t prove your ancestry, then no worries. You can follow an alternative route that doesn’t involve ancestry.

You can show proof to the consulate (from a Polish diaspora organization) affirming that you were actively helping the Polish community throughout the past three years.