Poland established a special visa program in 2020, the Poland Business Harbor (PBH), in response to the demand in the country’s high-tech sector, which had an estimated deficit of 150,000 unfilled positions. Initially, the focus was on eastern regions of Europe to encourage specialists and technology companies from that area to relocate to Poland.
Success beyond the wildest expectations
Yet, the success of the Poland Business Harbor program has exceeded the wildest expectations to such an extent that it has been expanded worldwide, not just in Eastern Europe. As of the end of 2022, over 74,000 specialists, along with their families, had arrived in Poland under the program. Among them, Belarusians made up the most significant percentage. As many as 93% of visa applications processed by Polish diplomatic missions under PBH were granted to companies and specialists from Belarus. Just over 3% went to Russians, and only 2% to Ukrainians, who, since the outbreak of the war, have been able to stay and work in Poland without visa requirements.
Belarus is unique in this regard – it is not a wealthy country but rather a somewhat underdeveloped agricultural country – not to mention a country governed by an authoritarian regime. However, it has a rapidly growing IT sector based on young, talented specialists of high global standards. It is worth mentioning that the founder of Wargaming, the studio responsible for one of the world’s most famous and profitable games (World of Tanks), comes from Belarus.
For years, Poland has pursued a policy towards Belarus focused more on supporting the opposition rather than the current regime and supporting democratic aspirations in this authoritarian country. In this context, the PBH program serves multiple purposes. It works for the benefit of Polish business and economy and inadvertently aligns with other objectives of the Polish national interest.
Support for democracy and human rights
By offering Belarusian specialists opportunities for professional growth and work in an environment of greater freedom, PBH showcases Poland’s commitment to supporting democracy and human rights. It stands in contrast to the authoritarian regime in Belarus and sends a message of solidarity with the Belarusian people.
Geopolitical influence and soft power projection
By attracting highly skilled specialists from Belarus, Poland is enhancing its influence in the region. Becoming a leader in the IT sector (thanks to arriving specialists, among other factors) and fostering technological development rooted in a knowledge-based economy boosts Poland’s soft power, increasing its reputation as a forward-thinking and innovative nation, and attracting international attention and investment.
In order to sustain its development and compete in international markets, Poland needs talented and highly skilled specialists. The arrival of Belarusian IT specialists contributes substantially to Poland’s economic growth. Their skills and technological knowledge are a factor enabling the development of businesses, the creation of new jobs, and the generation of higher income for the economy.
From the Polish perspective, over 700 companies, mainly large IT companies constantly needing specialized personnel, have benefited from the program. The government’s PBH program seems to hit the bulls-eye, fulfilling at least several goals of Polish state interests and geopolitical efforts. Poland is emerging as a local leader in the IT sector, increasingly rooted in a knowledge-based economy, which also translates into Polish soft power. The significant weakening of the Belarusian regime through the draining of an important sector of its economy, which will become increasingly visible and painful for the regime, is just the cherry on top of the cake.