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Tide turns as Poles end great migration
A wave of immigration that helped to fuel Britain’s early 21st century boom is over, as the Polish plumber and thousands like him go home.
The Times has established that, for the first time since they began arriving en masse four years ago, more UK-based Poles are returning to their homeland than are entering Britain.
Statistics show that only 38,680 Poles signed up to the Government’s register of migrant workers in the third quarter of 2007, a slump of 18 per cent from the previous year. Polish officials say that Poles leaving the country outnumber thoses coming in.
Hard statistics on the number of Poles leaving Britain do not exist. There are no embarkation controls on EU members so they are are not counted out. But Polish officials, British employment agencies and the Polish media all believe that the tide of immigration has turned. Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, 274,065 Poles have signed up for work permits. They make up 66 per cent of all applications from Eastern European countries.
But a combination of tightening economic conditions in this country, a comparatively weak pound and an unprecendented surge in the Polish economy has made it unattractive for Poles to remain.
“At the end of last year we saw the tipping point,” Krzysztof Trepczynski, Minister for Economic Development at the Polish Embassy in London, said. “It’s a real change. There are now definitely more Poles going back to Poland.
Jan Mokrzycki, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, said: “The first thing that’s been hit is the builders. There’s no doubt about it. Many aren’t prepared to wait for the construction boom that’s going to happen for the Olympics in 2012.
“Also, the Polish economy is experiencing an upturn. The zloty is at a high and although we’re experiencing inflation here and in Poland, it’s not as noticable in Poland because the currency is strong.”
Half of the estimated one million British-based Poles are expected to return home, said the Centre for International Relations, a Warsaw-based think-tank.
Chris Zietkowski, 34, a Polish painter and decorator, told The Times that he wanted to return home this year. “Two years ago I could make five times the amount of money here than I could in Poland,” he said. “Now the wages are about the same and the living costs in the UK are much higher. There is a lot of work in Poland, probably more than in the UK. It’s a good time to go back.”
Mr Zietkowski added that many of his friends were also thinking about returning. “The feeling is: why be away from your family and your home-land for no reason?”
The tide of immigration prompted supermarkets to introduce ranges of Polish products as they sought to tap into the substantial spending power of the new arrivals. Polish newspapers and radio stations sprang up. Libraries started stocking Polish books.
The young immigrants, most of whom were aged between 18 and 25, quickly infiltrated the building and plumbing industries, drawing praise for their work ethic and low prices. Last year’s downturn in the British building industry has prompted many to return home.
Kasia Popyla, 23, is a student physio-therapist who has just returned to Poland. “I used to make £800 per month,” she said. “Since the summer I’ve watched the zloty value of my savings, which are in pounds, fall lower and lower.
“At the end of the day we are Polish, we left in our early 20s and are coming back to get married and watch our kids grow up in Poland.”
Building a future in a land where life is affordable
Returning Poles call their time in Britain a latterday Battle of Britain, in reference to the large contingent of Polish airmen who fought with distinction in the wartime RAF. Many say that this second, economic, fight has been fought and won, and they want to return home to build their own houses, start families and put their experience to good use.
“I wanted to come back to Poland to settle down and also to chase my dreams,” said Kajetan Suder, 29, who lives in Zielona Gora, western Poland. In Britain, Mr Suder worked for construction companies in Bristol, renovating a 200-year-old house and helping to build an 11-floor office block. “England was only ever meant to be a short adventure for me,” he said.
Thanks to membership of the European Union and Nato, Poland is more prosperous and secure than it has been for centuries, and has started to draw its emigrants back. Economic growth is surging at about 6 per cent and offers work opportunities that until recently were available only in Western Europe. Unemployment has almost halved since 2003, and is expected to fall further as facilities are built for the Uefa football tournament taking place in Poland in 2012.
The zloty is soaring against sterling. When Polish workers began legally working in Britain, in May 2004, they could convert each pound saved into 7.2 zloty. Now £1 is worth only 4.8 zloty: meaning they have to find a way of earning more in Britain to save the same amount of Polish currency. “Money isn’t a reason to leave Poland any more,” said Michal Kowala, 27, a graduate in management sciences who returned to Warsaw from England after working as a croupier in a casino for £1,200 a month. “Graduates don’t really need to travel to England just to save a bit of money or gain work experience. It’s all here for us now.”
Migration figures for recent months are still being collated, but recruitment agencies, building firms and anecdotal evidence all indicate that the great tide of migration will rise no further and may be ebbing. Some experts say that about half of the estimated million Poles in Britain will go back within the next two years. “We can expect the gradual return of Poles from the UK to Poland,” said Miroslaw Bieniecki, of the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw. “The strong zloty is an important factor and affects where seasonal labourers choose to go for work in particular.”
This is good news for campaigners such as Rafal Dutkiewicz, the Mayor of Wroclaw, and Donald Tusk, the country’s Prime Minister, who have been emphasising the economic risks posed by permanent migration.
The Poles who came to Britain in 2004 were, analysts say, mainly single people and couples in their early twenties – born as part of the early 1980s baby boom that was an unexpected result of the imposition of martial law.
Another returned migrant, Maria Falkiewicz, 29, now earns the same as a project co-ordinator in Warsaw as she did as an office assistant in Bath. “The difference is that my costs in Warsaw are a third of what they were in Britain, and I’ve been able to buy a flat here.”
Surprised to hear of a downturn in the british building industry. The olympics are boosting the building industry. As well as this there appear to be many cranes in London's skyline at the moment which would indicate growth not recession. The amounth of building work going on in London has normally be indicative of the state of the economy.
Many Poles come for a few months. Go back home and live well off the money they have earnt. Then then return again to the UK or Ireland. I see this all the time in my area and among my daughter-in-law's friends.
I've seen the effects of this first hand. For example it's much harder to find Polish builders than it used to be. I had a couple of distant family members recently come to the UK and stay with us in the hope of finding work when they arrived despite speaking no english (this was against our advice, but as a favour to one of my cousins). They left after only two weeks and returned to Poland. One is going back to Italy to work (she speaks italian). During their time here they worked for free for an agency for two days, were offered a minimum wage job for a six day 48 hour week with "optional" overtime, but no accommodation by a russian gangmaster in kent who advertises in the Polish magazines. Had a casual seamstress job offered which required specialist skill again for the minimum wage. etc etc.
Skilled jobs are on hand for those who speak english and have skills, unskilled labour is too poorly paid and has too poor conditions for Poles to bother with these days when they can get the same pay and poor conditions back home. Today there are adverts in the Polish magazines for trainee surveyors for an English company. (where are all the english surveyor trainees...??). However, the romanians and bulgarians are taking over in the unskilled fields and I am told russians (although presumably they are russian speakers from the former baltic states...). This is creating a hierarchy of labour in unskilled jobs where Poles are getting treated badly by ethnic Russians or Romanians and Poles probably prefer to be treated badly by other Poles. There is absolutely loads and loads of corrupt and illegal abuse of workers going on by licensed gangmaster who bend rules and work on people who don't speak english not reporting them. I've seen all this first hand. Desperate people coming here and being forced to work for less than the minimum wage by unscrupulous agencies. Top hotels recruiting staff which agencies don't pay because they are on a "trial basis". Builder agencies not paying builders until they have worked for free for a week. I heard it all last month. I was shocked what I came across and how badly people are being treated and just how difficult it is to get a job here if you don't speak english.
So those who don't speak English probably fancy their chances are better in Poland. Those who do stay.
So when you see some of these people you criticise because you don't like the look of them, think of all the hardship they are going through just to earn less than the minimum wage for 48 hours a week hard work plucking chickens all day for some dodgy dealing gangmaster or cleaning toilets for free for some shady hotel cleaning agency.... By the way the hotel I'm talking about is a luxurious one in central London and the agency provides cleaning staff to many luxury hotels in London. So people are going to bed in sheets placed there by what is literally slave labour and eating meals cooked by staff who have not been paid. Nice to know in such an advanced economy with such a wonderful legal system..
Anyway I was shocked by what I've found and I'm not surprised people are going back. There is far more competition from bulgarians and romanians for entry level non english speaking work.
Bulgarians and Romanians can't legally work in the UK. So why would they would be competition for Poles who have no problems working legally in the UK?
Those that go back to Poland will mostly be Poles who don't speak English.
oh yes they can legally work here Neil. They need to obtain authorisation by getting a letter from an employer.
"Those that go back to Poland will mostly be Poles who don't speak English"
Ageed and those who can afford to go back and those who have made lots of money and have built nice houses in Poland. I think there will be many of both if the Polish economy picks up.
They need a work permit issued by the Home Office.
Polish migrants do not.
Neil do you not realise how many bulgarians romanians and russians are working here?
They only need to go through the formalities and they have a job. I've no idea how many have permits or not, but the Poles who stayed with me said the hotel they worked at was full of Bulgarian, Romanian and Russian staff. Presumably an agency would make sure they had fulfilled the formalities. All they need to do is ensure a letter from the employer gets accepted by the home office. Not sure how the russians get in but assume they get around the system one way or t'other by having ascension state ID. There are special rules for self employed so maybe that's also an option.
Still I guess when a non Polish speaker hears Bulgarian or Russian they may think it is Polish and not realise how many non Polish east europeans are here.
Much of what I see of manual workers on the tube these days are not speaking Polish but another slavic language. The Poles I see speaking on their mobiles on the tube are usually glamourous women or smart looking businessmen. The builders we had recently (employed by a Polish owned building firm) were lithuanian and Ukrainian. I still see Poles around, but not as many as last year and I do know of Poles who have come here and then returned to Poland for good after working for a few months. It's probably different outside London.
However, as far as London is concerned, I guess I'm a bit closer to the situation on the ground than you.
Why is it that you think that whatever you see in your corner of London is in any way representative of the UK as a whole?
Romanians and Bulgarians cannot work until they are issued with a Home Office work permit. Employers do not issue them. The Home Office do.
"Why is it that you think that whatever you see in your corner of London is in any way representative of the UK as a whole?"
Because London has the largest Polish population in the UK and is therefore reasonably representative of what is happening elsewhere.
I had a Bulgarian temp working for me officially through an agency back in 2006/07 - not quite sure how she got around the regs but she had an official work permit so can't be that difficult if you go down official routes (as stats below show given thousands registered). The hotel agency I referred to is run by Romanians and has many romanian staff. Romanians & bulgarians have been able to officially work in the UK since last year (with the restrictions such as requiring letter from employer to be registered with home office).
"Because London has the largest Polish population in the UK and is therefore reasonably representative of what is happening elsewhere. "
I lived in the UK for several years and own property there even now.
I don't think that London is representative of anywhere in Britain. Are there any British living there at all??? I certainly didn't see many white faces on my last visit
London is an immigrant city.
Places like Gloucester, Hampshire and Dorset are what I consider to be English.
I think B&G need work permits, just like Pakistanis and Africans do to work LEGALLY in England.
You're entirely missing the point Hans nowt to do with london being representative of english population in the UK......
You come closest to the point in this statement :
"London is an immigrant city."
Expanding on this, therefore it is highly representative of immigrant populations in the UK. As it has by far the highest concentration of Poles in the UK it is highly representative of Polish populations in the UK in general, other than you get more professional Poles working in London and increased manual labourers working outside.
If you read the attached link you will see that thousands of bulg & romanians have obtained permits....I'd say official stats stating that 10,000 permits issued in just the first half of 2007 is quite a material amount when projected to date. Those are as you say the figures of those who work "legally". The illegal count is likely to be much higher. There must also be plenty of ukrainians and russians working illegally as I doubt anyone from the home is checking building sites to see who is legal and who is not....
relevant extract from the link above :
"Between April and June of this year, 3,990 Bulgarian and Romanian nationals were granted access to the labor market, down 21 percent from the 5,075 that were granted access in the first quarter of 2007.
The figures included those registered as self-employed and self-sufficient. An additional 3,980 were issued permits for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS)."
London has the largest Polish population in the UK.
Slough, Peterborough, Bristol, Brighton, Colchester????
Huge Polish comunites. Romanians cannot work in the UK without work permits, we turn many away every week.
Poles who are 'village idiots' with no education are leaving, they don't really fit into society in Polish towns so struggle here. They return to Poland, Poles with half a brain stay, many buy property in Poland and rent it out, often the income goes to family back home.
London is no more a good example of the UK as Warsaw is of Poland, I remember a certain American Pole that disapeared from the forum, had seen Warsaw and thought he knew everything about Poland.
I agree than most brits hear a slavic language and think it Polish, but chances are 99% they are right.
"London is no more a good example of the UK as Warsaw is of Poland"
As it has the largest contingent of brits working there, Warsaw is probably the most representative of the english community in Poland. In the same way London is most representative of the Polish community in the UK. Poles usually arrive in London so you get all those who pass through here too usually staying a night or two when they get here. The Midlands prob have the second largest settlement.
Anyway many Poles are leaving for various reasons and Romanians and Bulgarians are taking the jobs - legally or not (I didn't say they don't need a permit, but who is checking?). It will be a gradual thing and many Poles will stay particularly those who have married someone non Polish while here. But the mass influx seems to be abating in favour of other nationalities. There will probably be a fair bit of coming and going for quite a while. But I'd say in five years time you won't see the levels of Poles we see today. Unless that is British companies carry on enticing them here......I predict a huge drive to recruit Polish builders and engineers from Poland for the Olympic work. I know that there is a shortage of skills in the London industry, particularly engineering.
"As it has the largest contingent of brits working there, Warsaw is probably the most representative of the english community in Poland."
"London is no more a good example of the UK as Warsaw is of Poland"