The Polish parliament has before it a proposal to grant its citizenry a right unprecedented in the communist Warsaw Pact countries -- "the right to a passport."
As proposed by a noncommunist member of parliament (the Sejm), this would permit all Poles to travel at will and to emigrate without risking prosecution if an when he might wish to visit or return to Poland.
At present none of the communist-bloc countries allow their citizens such freedom of movement. People who leave without specially authorized travel permits are subject to prosecution for having crossed the border illegally if they return. Most who choose not to return are stripped of their citizenship.
At the July session of parliament here, Edmund Osmanczyk, a widely traveled foreign correspondent and veteran doyen of noncommunist Polish journalists, proposed that all Poles be entitled to five-year passports allowing them to go abroad whenever and as often as they choose.
He called also for recognition of dual citizenship so that Polish passports might still be issued to Poles who acquired foreign citizenship or had become stateless persons.
The plan was acclaimed by the small nonparty and Roman Catholic groups in parliament. And some members of the peasant and democratic parties that form a "coalition" with the communist have indicated they approve of the proposal.
The Roman Catholic daily Slowo Powszechne complained that present passport policy is costing the country one-third of its natural population increase by leaving would-be travelers no option but emigration.
More than 70,000 Poles left last year after strikes erupted. By the end of this year another 100,000 will have left with the intention of settling abroad permanently.
This, the paper complained, was not only held against the offender but also against members of his or her family. Relatives are often penalized by being denied passports themselves.
The Polish government has acknowledged that the economic reforms ahead will cause unemployment. It may soon have to accept the concept of Polish guest workers temporarily working abroad, although Western Europe's own economic difficulties compelled cuts in the numbers it has accepted in recent years.
The rapid rise in Polish emigration reflects the human as well as the economic side of the current crisis.
So does the slump in tourism, which had been a major earner of foreign currency. Visitors from the West with hard currency to spend in Poland has already dropped 40 percent this year.
A crisis that shows no sign of being brought under control fills more and more youths with despair. The generally bleak economic outlook limits employment opportunities at home.
Official expectations that 100,000 Poles will emigrate this year may well be exceeded if the experience of some Western embassies so far this summer is maintained.
Daily some 200 Poles queue outside the West German and Italian embassies, waiting to put in requests for visas. The lines are even longer than the ubiquitous meat lines.
For the West Germans, all a Pole has to do is prove that he or she has money for the trip or has a relative, albeit remote, in West Germany.
The Germans know that many harbor a plan to stay and work, but they are tolerant about the visas since they also know that many of these young Poles are likely to want to move on to other countries.
Emigration will ease Poland's unemployment problem, but the decline in trourism is yet another blow to the economy.
Last year, more than half a million Poles could take vacations within the bloc. This year, their allies have unilaterally cut these possibilities by half.
More seriously, there is a very heavy falloff in visitors from the West -- only 100,000 so far, or half as many who had come by this time last year. In 1980, 75,000 Americans were expected, only 45,000 came. This year there will be even fewer.
Most Poles themselves are spending their 1981 holidays at home or visiting with relatives in the country. The popular resort regions, on the coast or in the lakes, have no more food to offer visitors from the towns than does the rest of the country.