There are numerous ways to get Polish citizenship. Some of the most common routes include naturalisation by residence. Another common way is through marriage to a Polish citizen for a period of at least three years, providing that the foreigner has lived in Poland legally for at least two years. This article covers one increasingly common method to get Polish citizenship – by descent.
With Brexit in the air, this post might be particularly useful for British people with Polish ancestry who are seeking to maintain the privileges connected to possessing EU citizenship and an EU passport by applying for a Polish passport.
It is with pleasure that I am able to share my own experience with getting Polish citizenship by descent through Lexmotion – a friendly legal team of Polish citizenship experts based in Kraków, Poland.
THE ELIGIBILITY PROCESS FOR GETTING POLISH CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT
Polish citizenship is obtained by “right of blood”, and is passed from parent to child automatically at birth, regardless of which country a child is born in. If you have a Polish ancestor somewhere in your family line, you most likely qualify for Polish citizenship. Some cases are really straightforward and people receive their confirmation of citizenship and passport within a few months.
I did not possess two of my grandfather’s vital records – his passport and birth certificate – so I was a little nervous at the start of the application process. However, there are plenty of alternative documents to trace, and barring a few bureaucratic blips from one or two institutions, my case turned out to be quite a straightforward one.
At the beginning of December, 2017, I began to make plans with my wife to move to Poland, so it was not all about the passport for me. I started to become quite involved in the process of creating my family tree and learning about my roots, even going to the lengths of hiring an archivist to find out some more information about my grandfather, my grandfather’s siblings and my great-grandparents.
I found out that my grandfather was born in a village called Bojary, which is now in modern-day Belarus – former Polish territory of course. After some manic zooming in on Google Maps, the name of the village finally appears.
Concerning my eligibility for Polish citizenship, Lexmotion put the following questions to me in order to carry out a free eligibility check:
- When were you born?
- Were you born in wedlock?
- When and where was your father born?
- Was your grandfather an adult person when he emigrated from Poland or did he emigrate with his parent(s) as a minor?
- Did your grandfather serve in a foreign army (not Polish) before January 1951 (it concerns either active duty or reserve)?
- Did your grandfather hold public office (not in Poland) or was a teacher before January 1951?
- To prove your Polish origin, we will need Polish documents (passports, IDs, army books, vital records, etc.)
I spent a few weeks corresponding with Lexmotion as I had plenty of questions. Eventually, the following news reached me via email:
I am pleased to inform you that based on the information you have provided you (and your siblings, children) can apply for the Polish Citizenship Certificate (provided you or your ancestors did not renounce Polish citizenship).
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED TO GET POLISH CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT
After it became apparent that I could apply for Polish citizenship, I was given the go ahead by my lawyers to track down documents which proved “right of blood”. Here is the email they sent me with a list of potential documents:
To get Polish Citizenship Certificate we have to prove that your ancestors were Polish citizens. It is very important, therefore I kindly ask you to send us scanned copies of Polish documents which you possess, especially:
- Polish ID (Dowód Osobisty);
- Polish passport (Paszport Rzeczpospolita Polska);
- documents from the Polish Army – Military Identity card, Polish book of military records (Książeczka Wojskowa”, Zeszyt Ewidencyjny);
- entry in the conscript list (“Spis Poborowych”);
- population census (Spis ludności, rejestr ludności);
- entry in the voter list (Lista Wyborcza”);
- notarial deed (Akt notarialny);
- certificate about holding public office;
- other documents issued by the Polish government;
- Polish vital records.
As previously mentioned, I did not have a copy of my grandfather’s passport and birth certificate. However, I was able to get a copy of my grandfather’s Death Certificate (Akt Zgonu) from the district in London in which he died. As I understand it, provided that an applicant possesses the death certificate of their Polish ancestor/s, the marriage certificate of their parents and their own birth certificate, then the entire kinship in two generations is perfectly described.
At the start, I was afraid that I would fail with my application because I was thin on documents. Rather desperately, I asked the lawyers whether they were able to trace copies of vital records in the appropriate Belarusian archives. Understandably, they were not able to fulfil such a request.
WAS YOUR GRANDFATHER IN THE POLISH ARMY UNDER BRITISH COMMAND?
It was becoming clear to me that I had to prove my grandfather did not lose Polish citizenship by, for example, leaving the Polish army to join the British army or becoming British by naturalisation. I had to turn my attention towards obtaining a copy of my grandfather’s book of military records (“Zeszyt ewidencyjny”) which confirms a person’s Polish citizenship.
If a Polish citizen fights for an army of another country, they automatically lose their Polish citizenship. However, things become a little trickier when it comes to the Second World War. Many Polish soldiers who were in the UK during the War fought in the Polish Army UNDER BRITISH COMMAND. Even though Polish soldiers were under British command and fighting alongside British soldiers, they were still classed as being in the Polish Army! This knowledge was my saving grace because the documents that came through in the post proved that my grandfather did indeed fight under British command and never “left” the Polish Army.
APPLYING FOR A RELATIVE’S POLISH MILITARY RECORDS IN THE UK
Regarding the process of applying for a relative’s Polish Military Records in the UK, they are held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) at this address:
APC Polish Enquiries
Building 60, RAF Northolt
West End Road
Tel: 0208 833 8603
I dealt with a lady called Margaret Goddard via telephone – a very helpful and kind soul.
When you write to request your relative’s military records, you will need to include some proof that you are related to the Polish ancestor in question. For some reason, I ended up sending a picture of my grandfather’s grave to Mrs Goddard via email, possibly because I did not have his birth certificate, and I was still waiting for a copy of his death certificate. I applied for the documents just before Christmas, 2017, and received them just after the new year.
The Polish Enquiries team at RAF Northolt were no doubt handling hundreds of similar cases to mine at that time and knew what I was looking for. To be sure, however, I did send them an example document, which my lawyers sent to me, to make sure I had it in writing that my grandfather did not serve in the British Army. Take a look at this:
If the people at RAF Northolt cannot do much for you, or you would like to track down a more exhaustive set of military records, a list of other institutions and their address can be found here.
THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, KEW, LONDON
The main stumbling block in my application was getting a document stating that my grandfather did not acquire British citizenship, namely a “Letter of no evidence”. This is obtained from the National Archives in Kew, London. It is a crucial document, as my lawyers pointed out:
The Polish authorities have to know whether your grandfather was a British citizen or not. We have two options:
We can show them the naturalization certificate,
OR we can show them a document stating that your grandfather didn’t acquire British citizenship – please see an example in attachments.
Both documents are issued by the National Archives. As far as I know they are very cooperative and our previous clients got certificates within 2-3 weeks.
The problem for me was that the National Archives found a possible entry for the details I provided regarding my grandfather. In other words, there was another person with the same name as my grandfather’s who was naturalised as a British citizen in 1949, as the Archives pointed out:
Thank you for contacting The National Archives of the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately we are unable to issue a letter of no evidence because we have searched and found a possible entry for the details you have provided for XXXXXXXXXXX.
To try and tell if this entry relates to your query we will need to research using the original records – this takes more time and means we have to charge you.
Could you please let us know if you would like us to carry out further research?
Before we start any research we will write to you to explain our charges. When we receive your payment, we will carry out the search and, if we find the information and can make it available, we will provide it to you.
Remote Enquiries Duty Officer
So, I made the payment and the Archives carried out a search. A “Letter of no evidence” soon reached me in the post confirming that they did not have a record of my grandfather becoming British by naturalisation. See this extract:
Unfortunately, the Archives sent me an unsigned letter, which the Polish authorities would not accept of course. I could not believe it. I had to write to the Archives once more to send me a signed letter. It arrived a few weeks later.
The GOOD news for those with relatives who became “naturalised” in other countries:
* Polish citizens obligated for military service in Poland (i.e. men between the ages 18 – 50) did not lose their Polish citizenship after they emigrated to another country, and subsequently became citizens through naturalisation, if they were not permanently released from military duty by the Polish Government. In practice, this almost never happened. Knowing this at the end of 2017 would have eased my concerns.
DO YOU NEED THE HELP OF A LAW FIRM TO GET POLISH CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT?
It is not necessary to employ a lawyer or law firm to apply for Polish citizenship but I would recommend it. I had quite a few setbacks, worries and queries throughout the application process, and it is always better to have a legal consultant at hand to allay your fears and set you on the right track again.
POLISH CITIZENSHIP CONFIRMED!
I was ecstatic when news came through via email that my birth certificate and marriage certificate had been processed. It was only a matter of time before I would get my citizenship certificate. When the citizenship certificate came through, my lawyers informed me that they would be able to send out the original certificates via courier to my UK address. They also filled out the forms for me to get my Polish passport and PESEL number. This is an eleven digit national identification number which all applicants for a Polish passport must apply for.