My Life as an Illegal Alien, pt 1

Twice in my long stay in Poland my residence was not….. entirely….. legal.

The first time was in the early 1990’s. It was my third visit and first after the entry visa requirement for Americans had been lifted and I arrived in the country by train from Berlin. The border guard looked at my passport but he didn’t stamp it so there was no proof of date of entry. I had originally planned to go just for the summer but as things worked out I had the chance to stay longer (I was hired by the Polish state in an odd set of circumstances) and ended up leaving just short of 12 months after my arrival (partly to clean up loose ends in the states and partly to not lose my ticket).

I’m not even sure what the laws regarding residence or work were at the time (maybe the border guard didn’t either). All the people I asked about it (I didn’t ask anyone official) both Polish and non-Polish told me to not worry about it and so I didn’t bother my little head about it.

I don’t remember anyone asking about my status either when signing my work contract, picking up my monthly pay (this was before direct deposit and you had to go to a pay window once a motnh) or in my housing (also provided by the Polish state).

I vaguely remember something about being able to stay for three months and people running to the closest border every 90 days or so (the case some years later, but I might be misremembering) but I never bothered with it… and neither did any of the other foreigners I knew.

The early 90s in countries like Poland were very odd and many legal questions were in a weird state of limbo where no one quite knew what was happening or what the current law was (of if there even was one). Much of the legal system set up in the 44 years of the People’s Republic was still in place and followed and lots of it was being changed and lots of it had an odd Schroedinger’s Cat quality – the only way to find out if something was legal was to open the box (go ahead and do it).

When I left (train to Berlin) the border guard was very concerned about my beat up passport and spent a very long time staring at it and me with a big frown before finally shrugging me off. A friend later said that US passports of the time were designed to discolor if the vacuum seal around the picture was broken. So the weird yellow page with my picture was possibly an indication of a forged or at least a suspicious passport. I don’t remember what he asked but I deliberately spoke in mangled Polish (also putting on a broad burleasque of an American accent) to signal that I was just a harmless dope. But in the final analysis I was leaving Poland and he probably didn’t care enough to take me into custody or anything.

Later when laws became clearer (and harder to avoid) I did follow the rules though that didn’t stop me from finding myself on iffy legal ground through no fault of my own.

But that’s another story….

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1 Response to My Life as an Illegal Alien, pt 1

  1. Pingback: Irma, Irma, Bo-Birma, Banana Fanna Fo-Firma | The Worked Shoot

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