Receive free EU immigration updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest EU immigration news every morning.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz has waded into Poland’s cash-for-visas scandal, demanding an investigation into allegations that Warsaw turned a blind eye to officials operating the scheme and threatening to restore border controls to stop the flow of undocumented migrants from Poland.
Speaking at an election rally in the southern city of Nuremberg on Saturday, he accused Warsaw of “waving through” refugees, allowing them to pass into Germany instead of processing their asylum applications in Poland.
Poland’s centre-right Civic Platform has accused the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) of tolerating a corruption scheme that illegally sold Polish visas at consulates around the world, despite trumpeting tough anti-immigration measures at home.
The government has acknowledged that hundreds of visas were sold illegally, but argued that the numbers were much lower than those claimed by the opposition. Poland’s public prosecutors have charged seven people with corruption, three of whom have been detained.
The visa scandal comes at a time when Scholz’s coalition government is under mounting pressure to tackle the problem of irregular immigration into Germany.
German authorities recorded more than 204,000 asylum applications up to the end of August this year, an increase of 77 per cent on last year. That is on top of the 1.1mn Ukrainian refugees who have found a haven in Germany since Russia launched its invasion 19 months ago.
However, there is also huge reluctance in Berlin to take measures that undermine freedom of movement in the EU. Germany worries about a repeat of scenes during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when border controls led to huge queues of lorries on the German-Polish frontier.
At the Nuremberg event on Saturday, Scholz acknowledged that migrant numbers had “dramatically increased”. But he indirectly blamed Poland for the rise.
“I don’t want [people] just to be waved through from Poland and then afterwards we have a discussion about our asylum policy,” he said. Refugees arriving in Poland “should be registered there and undergo an asylum procedure there”. Visas that were being issued for cash “only make the problem worse”, he said.
Scholz said Germany would continue to uphold the right to asylum, which is anchored in its postwar constitution. But he said the authorities might need to “resort to additional measures”, for example on the German-Polish border.
The chancellor did not specify what these were. But asked by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper if she was weighing introducing stationary border controls on Germany’s frontiers with Poland and the Czech Republic, interior minister Nancy Faeser said that was an “option” that would help to “step up the fight against human trafficking”.
However, she added that “one shouldn’t suggest that no more asylum-seekers will come as soon as there are stationary border controls”.
Scholz’s intervention in the visa scandal follows earlier reports in Polish media that German local and regional authorities had already complained to the European Commission about a large inflow of people using Schengen visas issued by Poland.
Asked whether Brussels received such German complaints, the commission refused to comment.
Anitta Hipper, commission spokesperson for home affairs, called the visa fraud allegations “very concerning” and said her commissioner Ylva Johansson wrote to the Polish authorities on September 19 to ask for clarifications.
Poland granted 967,345 so-called first residence permits in 2021, which was one-third of the EU’s total issuance, according to statistics agency Eurostat. These visas give residence to the applicant in the country that issues them, but they also allow free travel to Germany and other European nations that are part of the Schengen open-border agreement.
Foreign minister Zbigniew Rau said this month that there were only about 200 cases of possible fraud. He also contested the claim that Poland was an outlier in EU issuance of visas.
Poland is yet to send its official data for 2022 to Brussels, but Rau said the numbers showed Poland issued last year a proportionate number of Schengen visas, amounting to two visas per thousand inhabitants, compared with 20 for France and 10 for Germany.