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The New York Times
October 19, 2007
As the Poles Get Richer, Fewer Seek British Jobs
By JULIA WERDIGIER
LONDON, Oct. 18 � When Piotr Farbiszewski landed here three years ago, he had enough money in his pocket to live for two weeks.
A successful technology consultant in Warsaw, he and his wife, Ela, a schoolteacher, had come to London to try it on for size; if they liked it, they would stay. To earn money, he worked as a builder while she flipped hamburgers.
They decided that they liked London, and within a year, Mr. Farbiszewski was a senior programmer at a software company. In March, the couple bought a small terraced house outside London, where they plan to raise a family.
�We�re very happy here,� Mr. Farbiszewski, 31, said. �The quality of life is better, the economy is stronger, there is less bureaucracy, it�s a multicultural society and the lady in the supermarket will smile at me. People don�t smile at each other in Poland.�
The Farbiszewskis are small players in one of Europe�s most successful immigration stories. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and Britain, unlike France and most other members, welcomed Polish workers, an estimated 1.1 million Poles, mainly young, have come to Britain. Today, they are the third-largest group of immigrants in the country, behind Irish and Indians.
Britain has benefited. On Tuesday, the Home Office estimated that immigration added �6 billion ($12.3 billion) to the nation�s economy last year. According to David Blanchflower of the Bank of England�s monetary policy committee, East European immigration has also reduced inflation pressure by increasing the supply of goods and services.
Indeed, Britain may soon face a novel immigration problem. As Poland�s economy has improved this year, immigration has slowed, which economists say could cause labor shortages in British industries.
When Poland and nine other new members, most of them former Communist countries, were admitted to the European Union, many West Europeans feared an influx of cheap labor. In May 2005 in France, opponents of a new European constitution used the labor threat � personified by an archetypal �Polish plumber� who would steal French jobs � to help defeat the proposed constitution in a national referendum.
But Britain, along with Ireland and Sweden, welcomed workers from the new European Union members � partly because they took physically demanding, minimum-wage jobs that many native-born Britons snubbed and partly because a wide range of industries in this country were suffering labor shortages.
Today, the reputation of Polish construction workers, nannies and caregivers is so high that other East Europeans sometimes say they are Polish to increase their chances of being hired. At Strathaird Salmon, a fish farm in Scotland, more than a third of the employees are from Poland.
Immigration opponents were correct on one point: on average, Poles earn �7.30 ($14.93) an hour, compared with �11.10 ($22.70) an hour for Britons, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a British institute.
In some regions, Britons worry that immigrants are pushing up housing costs and crime rates. The Polish influx was much larger than the government anticipated and unlike most previous waves of migrants � from South Asia and the Caribbean, for instance � the Poles did not restrict themselves to the cities.
Some settled in remote towns of East Anglia and the Midlands, areas with little experience in immigration, where there have been some complaints of school overcrowding and a lack of personnel able to teach children whose native language is not English.
But a decline in Polish immigrants could be a bigger problem than a surplus. �People still come,� said Ania Heasley, who arrived from Poland 16 years ago and now runs a recruitment agency, �though with less hurrah and enthusiasm because they have realized the cost of living here is higher than they thought and if you don�t speak English you will only get a low-paid job.�
In addition to a better economic climate in Poland, Britain is also something of a victim of its Polish immigrants� success. Many who started in low-skilled jobs have improved their English and moved up the career ladder. Many Poles now reject lower-paying jobs, or team up with trade unions to ask for better pay and benefits.
This could present problems for British employers, which have relied on immigrants to fill certain unappealing jobs. The National Farmers� Union warned last month, for instance, that there are few alternatives to immigration if Britain is to prevent a labor shortage that could damage agriculture.
Even before 2004, Britain�s farms relied heavily on seasonal workers from Poland covered under a special agreement to help during the harvest season. Once Poland joined the European Union, many of these seasonal workers became full-time regulars, but the demand for seasonal workers remained high.
The construction industry could also face shortages as London prepares for the 2012 Olympics and these could be heightened by the government�s promise to build new affordable housing, as well as renovate and improve hospitals, schools and the rail system.
According to a World Bank survey, thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians are eager to work in Britain, but are unlikely to get the chance because, unlike the Poles, they did not gain work-permit rights when their countries joined the European Union at the beginning of 2007. The restrictions, which have generated debate over the benefits and costs of immigration, are up for review this year, and their fate is uncertain.
Jan Mokrzycki, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, said anecdotal evidence suggested that about 30 percent of Poles, mainly skilled workers and those able to speak English, were staying in Britain while many less skilled migrants, mainly from Poland�s poorer southeast, were leaving.
�At the beginning, most questions we heard were about finding work,� said Mr. Mokrzycki, who came from Poland with his parents in 1948. �Now, people ring to ask how they can get their children into a better school or how to deal with landlords. We even get the odd marital problem these days.�
Racism is not a problem he often hears about. Rather, many Poles are struggling to warm to British cuisine, said Mr. Mok- rzycki, who despite living in Britain for the last 60 years still needs his wife�s Polish cucumber soup at least twice a week.
Such cravings have led to a growing industry of Polish bars, restaurants and shops. �Food is very important for us Poles,� said Beata Ciepal, 42, who came to Britain two years ago with her 14-year old daughter after losing her job at a software company in Poland. �I only buy Polish sausages. I don�t like the British ones.�
Last year, British banks, supermarkets and brewers started to discover the lucrative market in catering to Poles in Britain, with combined disposable income estimated around $4 billion a year by some analysts.
Lloyds bank not only began translating brochures into Polish and hiring Polish-speaking staff members, but stopped asking for proof of address to open an account after realizing that most Polish immigrants cannot provide it because they are in temporary quarters or informal sublets.
Tesco, the country�s largest supermarket chain, said in July that demand for its Polish food specialties, like pulpety (meatballs) and chocolate-jam cookies called delicje, was growing so fast that from 2006 to 2007, it doubled the range of products and widened distribution to 370 stores from 10.
SABMiller, the London-based brewer, started importing Tyskie, Poland�s best-selling beer, two years ago. �There�s been nothing like this,� said John Littleton of Miller Brands UK. �We�re actually now struggling to keep up with demand.�
Of course, Britons share some historical links with Poland � many Poles fought with the British in World War II and decided to settle in this country rather than returning home to live under Communism.
And the Poles are affecting the natives, too. Leila McAlister, who imports Polish sausage and pickled cucumbers, including some for sale in up-market stores like Whole Foods and Selfridges, says most of her staff is Polish but most customers are not.
I must say that over the last month most people asking about work, at my place of work have been Romainan no Poles as usual.
There are certainly a lot more job vacancies here in Warsaw, but salaries aren't going up & are unlikely to appeal to people who've become used to Western standards. A friend was offered work at 2zl per hour (about 40pence/80cents). He eventually took a better job paying 4zl per hour.
As the Poles Get Richer Fewer Seek British Jobs
There has been a report recently that far fewer are coming over. It is now Bulgarians that are entering the UK for jobs. Some Poles go back and some go back and forth. It really depends on what sort of experiences they had in Poland.
I think the ones that stay in the UK do so because many tend to get on very well with the brits and they fit in well into the work environment. I sometimes say to people "aren't you fed up with all the Poles" and I am astonished at the positive responses I get. There is a level of compatibility between the two cultures that I don't think the Poles have with any of their neighbours. Perhaps it's the celtic link in the UK that facilitates the relationship.
Interestingly my hairdresser is from Iceland and she is unfortunately going back to Iceland as she thinks you can have a better life there.