Tide Turns As Poles End Great Migration

Tide turns as Poles end great migration

From The Times
February 16, 2008

A wave of immigration that helped to fuel Britains 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 Governments 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. Its 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 thats been hit is the builders. Theres no doubt about it. Many arent prepared to wait for the construction boom thats going to happen for the Olympics in 2012.

Also, the Polish economy is experiencing an upturn. The zloty is at a high and although were experiencing inflation here and in Poland, its 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. Its 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 years 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 Ive 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.


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