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Visa scandal. Commission of inquiry. Krzysztof Drynda, former president of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, testified

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The Polish Investment and Trade Agency did not issue visas, we issued some kind of recommendations – said former president of PAIH Krzysztof Drynda before the commission of inquiry into the visa scandal. As he said, he did not know how many visas were issued under the Poland.Businnes Harbor program and how many people entered Poland on these visas. According to the head of the commission, Michał Szczerba, Russian companies took over Belarusian companies to send their citizens, among others, to Poland.

The Sejm commission of inquiry into the visa scandal continues to question witnesses on Wednesday. At the beginning of the meeting, the head of the committee, Michał Szczerba, announced that the Lublin prosecutor's office had requested access to the minutes of the committee's open and closed hearings.

The first to testify was the president of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency in 2021-2022, Krzysztof Drynda, who appeared before the commission with his representative. The committee members asked him about the Poland.Business Harbor program, which provided for a simplified visa procedure, without the need to obtain a work permit, for IT specialists, startups and companies.

Drynda freely stated that this program was already in operation when he took over as the president of PAIH. He said that PAIH operates at the intersection of public institutions and private business. – It is a platform that combines these two worlds, he said. The witness added that an important element of the Agency's activity is supporting potential investors in access to qualified staff.

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In this context, he noted that Poland boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Union, but from the point of view of investors, this is not such good news. He added that one of the answers to this problem was the Poland.Business Harbor program, addressed not only to employees, but also to their families. Under the program, a person without previously obtaining a work permit could receive a visa with a program endorsement for a year. After arriving in Poland, she could apply to the voivodeship office for a residence permit.

Former president of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency Krzysztof Drynda and his representativePAP/Paweł Supernak

Drynda on the extension of the Poland.Business Harbor program

Drynda said that initially the program was aimed at companies and employees from the IT industry from Belarus. The witness noted that the program was very well received by business and that there were demands from companies to expand it. – On July 13, 2021, the first expansion was carried out by five countries: Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia. PAIH was excluded from this decision. We simply received information that it was being extended, we did not participate in the decision-making process, he testified. The witness added that on January 12, 2022, Azerbaijan joined the list, and on September 5, 2022, the program was expanded to the entire world.

Drynda also pointed out that the entire program consisted of three tracks. The first one was addressed exclusively to start-ups and was operated by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development together with the Startup Hub Poland foundation.

The operator of the second, individual path was the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and GovTech (part of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister). This path – he explained – meant that foreigners could apply for a visa under the Poland.Business Harbor program, provided that they had an IT education or at least one year of experience in the IT sector. In addition, they had to have a declaration of willingness to be employed by a Polish company that was a partner of the program. – This path also did not concern PAIH at all. Only as part of our activities, we sometimes caught various companies that should not be on this partner list and then we reported this information to GovTech – said Drynda.

The third path, the so-called business, was strictly related to PAIH. – As part of our service to potential foreign investors, this program, Poland.Business Harbour, was indicated that they could benefit from this fast track for employee relocation – he said.

Meeting of the commission of inquiry into the visa scandalPAP/Paweł Supernak

He added that PAIH received a list of employees from a given country, prepared by the employer. PAIH forwarded it for verification to the consular department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “directly to director Beata Brzywczy, who forwarded these letters directly to consuls in individual consulates.” Moreover, he added, PAIH, through the Ministry of Development and Technology, forwarded this list of employees to the Internal Security Agency. – There were situations, later, when we received information from the Ministry of Development and Technology that they did not recommend further service to specific companies – he noted.

Former president of PAIH: we issued certain kinds of recommendations

Drynda emphasized that PAIH did not issue visas. – We issued some kind of recommendations. The company that contacted us, we verified it in publicly available registers, he said.

The witness also said that at the beginning of the Poland.Business Harbor program, Russian citizens were covered by it, but only on condition that they lived in Belarus. Later the program was expanded. He also emphasized that two days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, PAIH stopped providing services to Russian companies. He added that this suspension is still in force today. – PAIH did not provide services to Russian companies, but it provided services to Russian citizens under the program who were employed in Western companies that could potentially relocate to Poland – he said.

Drynda: I don't know how many visas have been issued under Poland.Businnes Harbor

Drynda said that before he became the president of PAIH, he was the director of a department in the Ministry of Development and Technology, which was proposed to him by the then head of this ministry, Jarosław Gowin. He emphasized that when he took over as the president of PAIH, the Poland.Business Harbor program was already in operation, so he does not know who its author was. He added that the program was developed in cooperation with the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Development and Technology and PAIH. He mentioned that within the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, Justyna Orłowska, then the Prime Minister's Plenipotentiary for GovTech, was responsible for the program.

The witness explained that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as part of the business path of the program, received from PAIH a list of employees who were to be relocated to Poland and forwarded it to individual consulates.

When asked how many business visas were issued at the request of PAIH, Drynda replied that PAIH issued approximately 80,000 recommendations for issuing visas, which – as he pointed out – cannot be equated with the number of visas actually issued.

The head of the committee, Michał Szczerba (KO), announced that – according to data as of October 18, 2023 – 84,315 such visas had been issued, while – according to data from the Border Guard – 13,259 people with visas with the Poland.Business Harbor annotation entered Poland.

Drynda repeated that the number of over 80,000 is the number of names submitted by PAIH to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Internal Security Agency with applications for visas. In his opinion, the difference between the number of recommendations and the number of people with a Poland.Business Harbor visa registered by the Border Guard resulted, among other things, from the fact that some employees resigned from coming, and some entered Poland through, for example, Lithuania or Germany. He noted that he did not know how many visas were actually issued and how many people entered Poland on these visas.

Drynda on servicing Russian companies

The witness noted that PAIH did not participate in the decision to extend the program to Russian citizens. Szczerba pointed out to him that during his free speech he talked about the cessation of services provided to Russian companies by PAIH after Russia's aggression against Ukraine, while the committee has an e-mail from the consular director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jakub Wawrzyniak, dated November 17, 2023, in which he warns to exclude Russian citizens from the program.

Drynda repeated that despite PAIH's decision to stop servicing Russian companies, the Poland.Business Harbor program “functioned normally because after the outbreak of the war, we worked intensively to take economic operations out of Russia.”

Shcherba replied that after the outbreak of the war or just before, Russian companies took over Belarusian IT companies in order – as he stated – to send Russian citizens to the EU and NATO countries. Szczerba gave the example of the Russian company Softline Holding, which “introduced” over 200 employees to Poland as part of the Poland.Business Harbor program.

Drynda corrected that “it seems to me that these employees were not introduced.” He added that on November 17, 2022, the Ministry of Energy and Technology sent a letter recommending not to serve Russian citizens. He noted that lists with the names of foreigners were sent to the Internal Security Agency for verification and several times the Internal Security Agency recommended breaking off cooperation with specific companies recommending employees, which PAIH did.

He admitted that during working hours he received information that the program could be a potential threat to the country's security and he raised this issue himself.

Former president of PAIH: we received signals that the program was well received

The deputy head of the committee, Marek Sowa (KO), pointed out that there is no formal document anywhere establishing the Poland.Business Harbor program. – Have you seen such a document? – asked Owl. The witness denied this and added that the program was coordinated by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. Sowa commented that the program formally did not exist.

Szczerba added that according to the letter from PAIH of February 14, 2024, the program “does not have a formalized form and is implemented on the basis of working arrangements between the GovTeh Center, the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Agriculture and Tourism and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

According to Drynda, the program was included in the list of support programs for foreigners on the basis of the Act on the principles of participation of foreign entrepreneurs and other foreign persons in economic transactions in the territory of the Republic of Poland.

The witness testified that PAIH did not evaluate the program, but received signals from entrepreneurs that Poland.Business Harbor was well received. He assessed that the program was an element that distinguished Poland from other countries and was one of its competitive advantages, “especially after it was extended to the whole world.”

After hearing Drynda, Paweł Kurtasz, who was dismissed from the position of the Agency's president in February this year, appeared before the commission.

WATCH THE MEETING OF THE COMMITTEE FOR VISA AFFORDABLE ON TVN24 GO

Szczerba: over 90,000 visas were issued during the program's operation

Poland.Business Harbor – as stated on the website dedicated to the program – is a comprehensive package that helps freelancers, start-ups, SMEs and large companies easily relocate to the territory of the Republic of Poland.

Shcherba emphasized last week that initially the program was aimed at citizens of Belarus, then “in an unexplained way” it was extended to citizens of five countries, including the Russian Federation, and “in the last version to the whole world.” According to the chairman of the commission, the secret services raised the alarm that the program could be a channel for the transfer of Russian agents to Poland and NATO countries.

At the end of January this year. the Poland.Business Harbor program has been suspended. At the end of February, PAIH spokesman Marcin Graczyk said that the agency was under investigation by the CBA at the request of the commission of inquiry into the visa scandal.

Main photo source: PAP/Paweł Supernak



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