Poland and Polish Discussion Group and Forum

Welcome to the original English language Poland and Polish discussion group board. This message forum is a place where English-speaking Poles, foreigners (expats) living in Poland, and anyone with a genuine interest in Poland can discuss and read the views of others concerning Poland. Subjects include: Polish news and current affairs; Life in Poland; politics; genealogy research; Polish culture and history; advice and tips on visiting Poland; Polish property and investment issues. The aim of our group is to increase awareness of wonderful Poland using the English language and allow and foster the honest debate and exchange of opinions on anything vaguely related to Poland and Polish - positive, negative and/or neutral! To state the obvious: all opinions and views expressed on this site are solely those of their respective authors and are not necessarily those of anyone else! Messages consisting of ads will be deleted.

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Poland and Polish Discussion Group and Forum
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Poles in the UK

Poles in the UK

A couple of years ago, Maryla Smolicz's Polish deli in Swindon was besieged with new arrivals seeking the comforts of imported kielbasa and advice on setting up life in the southern English town. They came to Britain because their earnings would far exceed what they made in Poland. "Now, they're all going home," says Smolicz. "This week alone, two couples have stopped by to thank me and say goodbye."

Since the European Union's enlargement in 2004, when Britain opened its job market to Europe's new member states, Poles have provided the British economy with a flood of cheap and plentiful labor. (Sweden and Ireland also opened their doors to East Europeans seeking work, while other E.U. countries delayed their legal arrival.) The immigration wave took Britain by surprise. While the government expected at most 13,000 East Europeans annually, nearly 800,000 applied for work permits between 2004 and the end of 2007. The stereotypical arrival was the Polish plumber, but thousands of professionals arrived too. Today, the community's U.K. directory lists Polish accountants and cardiologists, a hypnotist and a youth theater. Tesco supermarkets import Polish cookies and pâtés, and Britain's best-known tabloid the Sun put out the Polish-language Polski Sun in honor of Euro 2008.

Now, though, many Poles are returning home or seeking jobs in Sweden or Norway, which last year relaxed its work permit rules, or France, which did the same earlier this summer (and where salaries are paid in the soaring euro). "They can't find work here, and they came to work, not to get job benefits," says Jan Mokrzycki, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. Earlier this summer, the Polish daily Dziennik Zwiazkowy reported that job offers for Poles in the U.K. and Ireland were down a third on last year, and a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that about half of the million East Europeans who arrived since enlargement in 2004 have left. The Polish consulate in London estimates a 15% drop in new arrivals compared to last year, and expects about 300,000 to 400,000 Poles to remain in Britain — still a huge number to have settled in just a few years. "A lot of these migrants were not coming to build a new life for themselves," says Philip Whyte, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform. "Many were overskilled relative to the jobs they were carrying out in the U.K. They were coming to get a financial leg-up."

Financial considerations are now driving them home again. On May 1, 2004, the day of Poland's accession, a pound would buy more than 7 zloty, versus 4 today. In Poland, wages rose 7.7% last year, double their growth rate in the U.K.; and Poland's unemployment rate has dropped from about 14% to under 10% in two years. Newly arrived Poles, eager for jobs, were willing to work for low wages. The influx of Poles triggered tabloid scare stories about Polish laborers stealing jobs and soaking up social services. Now their departure has stirred doleful speculation about labor shortages: GET YOUR TAPS FIXED WHILE YOU CAN, warned a headline in the Times of London.

With the Polish economy growing at over 6%, there's a steady campaign to lure foreign workers home. Polish newspapers in Britain run ads from companies in Poland looking for returnee workers; builders are particularly in demand as the country pours money into infrastructure for the 2012 European Football Championship. Polish employers have trekked out to London job fairs looking for labor, while the city of Wroclaw even mounted its own campaign, sending officials to Britain to encourage Poles to return.

But it's not just Poland's growing opportunities that are causing the shift. After the country's E.U. accession, the Polish media painted Britain as a paradise. "The Poles all came here expecting gold coming from heaven," says Smolicz. For many, the reality has been less sublime. Earlier this summer, a Polish couple in the English city of Lincoln who'd had trouble finding steady work committed suicide, leaving behind an 11-year-old daughter. The U.K.-based Polish Times followed up with a cover story on poverty among Polish migrants. "People who work abroad are perceived in Poland as very rich and successful," says the paper's editor Katarzyna Kopacz. "But many of them suffer poverty, with only part-time jobs and growing debts." As the economy turns sour in Britain, expect many more Poles to head for where the opportunities lie: home.