Post-Accession Emigration from Poland: A New or Old Kind of Emigration? Notes on the Book A Decade of Poland’s Membership in the European Union. The Social Consequences of Emigration from Poland After 2004

In 2014, ten years after Poland joined the European Union, numerous summaries were made on the impact of accession upon various dimensions of economic, political and social life; accession also had a significant impact upon Polish migration. The book Dekada członkostwa Polski w Unii Europejskiej. Społeczne skutki emigracji Polaków po 2004 roku [A Decade of Poland’s Membership in the European Union. The Social Consequences of Emigration from Poland After 2004] (Lesińska, Okólski, Slany and Solga 2014) is an extended report by the Committee of Migration Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences (2013), devoted to the impact of accession to the European Union upon foreign migration by Poles, and the consequences thereof. The publication focuses on two subjects: a description of post-accession migration and its impact on demography, the economy, and society at the national and regional level; and the influence of post-accession migration on transformations affecting Polish families and the Polish diaspora.

Let us begin with a description of post-accession migration from Poland (already the subject of a rather extensive literature, of which part was collected in the bibliography for the book’s second chapter (Lesińska et al. 2014: 25–44). Accession to the EU and the consequent opening of the Union’s job markets to Polish workers created a significant increase of the stream of migration from Poland, and this is certainly the most important consequence of accession in the area of migration. Estimates show that in the 2005–2012 period about 2.25 million people emigrated from Poland, over 5 perc ent of the country’s population (ibidem: 48–51).

In addition to the significant growth in the number of emigrants, post-accession emigration differs from previous waves of migration in several important respects. First, the destinations of emigration: before EU accession, Polish emigrants mostly chose Germany as their destination; following accession, however, the UK and Ireland became the preferred destinations - whereas in 2002 there were 2,000 Poles in Ireland, this number grew to 200,000 in the next five years, which is mainly an effect of the opening of labour markets by those countries directly following accession. Second, the type of migration changed: before accession, emigration was mostly grounded in migrant social networks, while in the following period individual migration became dominant, at the same time leading to a more diverse geographical origin of emigrants - before accession, most emigrants originated from regions of Poland with a strong tradition of emigration, while after accession the geographical distribution of the origin of emigrants became more balanced, when network-based migration ceased to dominate. And third, post-accession emigration differs in the age distribution of emigrants. Post-accession emigrants are predominantly young, even if slightly older on average than those who emigrated shortly before accession. Following 2004, the dominant age group among emigrants is 25–34 years old. And finally, fourth: post-accession emigration is notable for the change in the proportions of gender among migrants – after 2004, men and women emigrate in similar numbers, while before then the migrant stream consisted predominantly of males. The last difference is a change in emigrants’ educational status: following accession, those leaving the country were mainly graduates of higher education, who began to be affected by unemployment in Poland; before accession, on the other hand, most emigrants had at most completed secondary school or vocational school education.

In 2016, signs appeared that the prevailing migration destinations for Poles might be changing again. According to the report Migracje zarobkowe Polaków IV published by Work Service in May 2016 (Work Service 2016: 13), Germany was again named most frequently by Poles as a potential emigration destination, and compared to 2014, interest in the UK, Netherlands and Norway was clearly waning (Work Service 2014: 5). Currently, intention to emigrate is declared mainly by people with only secondary or primary education, of young age, of rural and small-town origins, mainly from the eastern part of the country - a return to the pre-accession pattern. Time will show whether this is a transient fluctuation, or a more lasting trend in migration from Poland. It is clear that Polish migration is a variable phenomenon, perhaps entering into yet another stage - of post-post-accession migration.

We have described migration after 2004 using the term post-accession, perhaps suggesting a uniform character; however, as shown by the authors of the reviewed publication, the typical emigrant’s profile varies, depending on the country of destination, the emigrant’s region of origin, and whether emigration took place directly following accession or several years later. In view of such differences, the authors distinguish two types of post-2004 migration: first, the new-type emigration, to which the term ‘post-accession’ is usually applied. This is represented by young, well-educated people, who for the most part head for English-speaking countries, and have some degree of language skills relevant to their destination, but usually lack experience of migration. The second type, the old-type emigration, does not differ much from pre-accession emigration, and is represented mostly by people of a higher age and lower educational level in comparison to the former group, of rural or small-town origins, with low or non-existent foreign language skills, but often with prior experience of emigration; they choose traditional destinations, such as Italy, Germany, and the USA, where well-organised social networks of emigrants exist. It is apparent that after 2004, traditional emigration strategies did not fade away; however, alongside them a new type of emigration has appeared, making emigration from Poland more varied in cultural, ideological, cognitive and religious respects.

The above observations made by the authors are quite important, as in the Polish public debate one often encounters the unreflexive use of the term ‘post-accession emigration’ with the assumption that it is uniform in character. It remains a question whether the changes observed in 2016 in the destinations of migration and emigrant profiles indicate a return to the sort of migration that prevailed before accession? Answering this question will require more detailed studies over a longer period; however, one might suggest that the ‘accession effect’ (huge growth of migration and shift in destinations) is already wearing off.

The book makes no reference to post-accession emigration from other countries of Central and North-Eastern Europe; it is therefore difficult to determine to what extent post-2004 emigration from Poland is peculiar, conditioned by Poland’s tradition of emigration and by living conditions particular to Poland, and to what extent its features are typical and equally present in the post-accession emigration from other countries, for instance Lithuania, where half a million people have left the country in the past quarter of a century – amounting to 15 per cent of the entire population. Comparison with post-accession emigration from other countries would allow one to distinguish features stemming from accession from those that are peculiar to a given country.

Post-accession migration has had an impact on the Polish diaspora, and this is analysed in the book using the example of the Polish diaspora in Great Britain (Lesińska et al. 2014: 283–305). The situation of the Polish diaspora in Great Britain is rather special for two reasons: first, due to its size, significance, and highly organised character following World War II; and second, because Great Britain has become the main destination for Polish emigrants during the past decade. These circumstances taken in conjunction have led to substantial changes in the diaspora’s structures, its modes of self-organisation, and the aims and forms of its activity. Currently the main divide among Poles in the British Isles runs along the line of old versus new emigrants. The ‘old’ are post-war and post-Solidarity emigrants, who uphold an eloquent patriotic discourse, while the ‘new’ are post-accession emigrants, the majority of whom reject the narrative of ‘national martyrdom’, and who emigrated mainly due to economic (and sometimes educational) circumstances. The ‘new’ diaspora displays a preference for informal modes of association and self-organisation, and communicates via the internet, mainly through social networks. As observed by the author, some circles within both groups strive to underline their separation and distinctiveness, as a means to create a group identity (Garapich 2009: 61), leading in the case of the Polish diaspora in Britain to some unexpected consequences: the ‘new’ emigrant community from Poland tends to reinforce the traditionalism of old structures, which strive to stress their conservative character, in opposition to the ‘new’ emigrants. At the same time, it is not the case that the two communities function in complete separation and maintain no contacts - some of the ‘youth’ attend patriotic events held by the ‘old’ emigrants and partake in their social networking. Regrettably, in this interesting text the author does not provide a more detailed description of the contexts that cause generational differences among emigrants to be underlined, and those where they are blurred. What kind of circumstances mobilise the emigrant community as a whole? Does it only happen when emigrants as a group come under attack, or the government attempts to cut social benefits? Recently, the Polish community made a show of unity when a Polish nobleman challenged the leader of the UK Independence Party to a duel for his vitriolic attacks on Polish emigrants – but is this the only kind of situation that could unite the Polish diaspora?

The situation among the Polish diaspora was compared to that of the Italian diaspora in Great Britain, a comparison which is of special value, as it allows for observation of similarities in the processes of migration. Among Italians in Britain one also observes a slow withering of traditional ethnic emigrant associations based on strong identity and common emigrant destiny, and an upsurge in new types of activity – based on horizontal networks supported through the Internet and social media. This evolution is conditioned by a generational change – the appearance of cosmopolitan, well-educated young Italians. Thus the changes observed within the Polish diaspora community would be a result of a generational shift among European immigrants rather than of Poland’s EU accession, seeing the same transformations taking place in migrant communities originating from old EU member states.

A second subject discussed in detail in the book is the demographic and economic effects of post-accession migration at the national and regional level, and the impact of post-accession migration on the situation of Polish families. The part that touches upon economic effects and the influence on regional development is of most interest, as the authors refute several myths concerning the economic effects of post-accession migration. In their opinion, in the long term migration will definitely have an impact on the national economy, if only due to demographic effects. In the short and medium term, however, there has been little impact on the labour market, i.e. the level of employment and joblessness, although locally there may have been some influence (Lesińska et al. 2014: 109–139). They argue this based on the assumption that a shortage of labour in some branches of the economy due to emigration would manifest itself through wage increases, and such increases have not been observed in Poland. In their analysis of the impact of migration on the market the authors employ the liberal theory of supply and demand, but it is not clear that this theory actually applies, for example, in the health service sector. Following EU accession, emigration of medical personnel became easier, due to the EU Directive of 7 September 2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications, and many physicians and nurses took advantage of this opportunity; however, the shortage of anaesthesiologists and nurses in Polish hospitals was not reflected in any major increase in their wages. Thus it seems that the theory of supply and demand does not apply in this case.

In another chapter, the authors themselves doubt that the theory of supply and demand is applicable in a situation of unbalanced development. In the section on the impact of remittances on the development of the Opole region they arrive at the conclusion that the influence of money from abroad on stimulating demand for services might not be balanced by the increase in the price of such services, even if said price approaches the German level, as workers qualified to provide these services are simply in short supply.

As for the influence of emigrant remittances, the authors state that in Poland they do not stimulate local development or contribute to investment in infrastructure. A major proportion of these remittances are spent on current consumption – which does have some positive effects, by raising living standards in households, diversifying their sources of income, and reducing poverty and inequality. However, there are also negative effects, which are difficult to quantify: families become dependent on income from abroad, lose incentive, and the increased demand for consumer goods fails to stimulate growth, because it is not directed at goods of local origin. Foreign remittances from emigrants lead to poor communities with wealthy inhabitants, as is the case in some parts of the Opole region (Berlińska 1999: 248).

In Poland, monetary remittances are important to the families that receive them, of lesser importance to the region, and of minor importance to the state budget - similarly to other European countries. It is interesting to look at recent data from the International Monetary Fund concerning foreign remittances by country (International Monetary Fund 2016 ). It turns out that in Europe, the largest amounts are received as remittances not by those countries that are the largest sources of emigration, but rather by those with net immigration: France, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Italy. The absolute value of remittances to those countries is much larger than that of those coming into Poland, yet it still falls short of being a significant contribution to the GDP of those countries, and does not stimulate the development of local infrastructure - it is a contribution to the support of families of expat workers. It is a different case for some Asian and African nations, where monetary remittances from abroad are not only a significant contribution to the support of families that receive them, but also have an impact on local communities and the state as a whole. According to data from the IMF, foreign remittances contribute 10 per cent to the GDP of the Philippines; in Mexico, meanwhile, which is also known to receive significant foreign remittances, though the amount as a fraction of GDP is only 2 per cent, the influence on local development is still considerable (Legrain 2007: 161–178). Poland seems to be somewhat in between these two models: while the impact of foreign remittances on a national level is not strong, and nor are they of major significance at the regional level, at the same time the growth of outgoing remittances, mainly to Ukraine, is a similarity between Poland and the wealthier Western states; however, the incoming remittances come mainly from workers employed in so-called 3D occupations (dirty, dangerous, dull) - as in the Philippines – rather than from expat specialists.

As for the impact of migration on regional development, opinions among Polish researchers vary. Some claim that modernisation is hampered by brain drain (Iglicka 2008), while others consider it to be boosted by the ‘dilution of the labour marke’ through emigration, which removes excess manpower (Grabowska-Lesińska and Okólski 2009). The authors of this publication tend to share the latter opinion, summarised as brain overflow - that the structural misalignment between the professional makeup of human resources and the demands and needs of the market is corrected by outgoing migration, with a positive outcome.

The impact of post-accession migration at the regional level was described in the book using the example of three provinces with the highest indexes of emigration. Each of them represents a different tradition of migration, but all are regions which tend to push out - due to high level of unemployment, peripheral character, depopulated rural areas, and a generally low population density. An interesting regularity was observed by the authors concerning emigration from the Opole province in southwestern Poland. The region always featured a high rate of migration to Germany, with most of those leaving being from the native Silesian population from the eastern part of the region – which was not affected by post-World War II resettling, while in the western part near the German border most ethnic Silesian and German people were deported at that time. Many of those leaving enjoyed the privilege of German citizenship on the grounds of Article 116 of the German Basic Law. Accession did not change the pattern of migration from this part of the province, which was that it was mostly males who left to work in Germany. Meanwhile, in the eastern part of the province, populated mainly by people resettled after World War II, the prevailing pattern was affected. Post-accession, the gender structure of migration became balanced, with roughly equal numbers of men and women emigrating, and the destinations became more varied (Lesińska et al. 2014: 235). Thus in a single province, following 2004 two completely different patterns of post-accession emigration prevailed in each of its two parts. Native Silesians mostly continued the traditional model of migration, and membership in the EU changed little in their migration opportunities. For the resettled population, on the other hand, EU membership was a turning point, as from there on they were able to seek employment abroad without needing invitations or permits. These differences between the eastern and western parts of the Opole province are reflected at the national level, in similar differences between regions with a strong tradition of migration and those that lack such a tradition.

The book is an attempt at a comprehensive description of Polish migration since 2004 and their economic, demographic and social effects, at the micro, meso and macro level. Its weakness is the exclusively Polish perspective of the analysis. The authors failed to place post-EU-accession migration from Poland in a wider context of post-accession migration from other countries that joined the EU in 2004 or later. Such a comparison would make it possible to determine whether the features of the migration stream observed by the authors are of a general character, or whether they are specific to Polish post-accession migration. The same applies to transformations of the Polish diaspora. The impact of the new wave of migration was analysed only with reference to the Polish community in Great Britain; it remains an open question whether similar changes took place in Polish communities in Germany or France, or for instance, among the much younger Polish community in Norway. Is the divide between the ‘old’ community of political emigrants and the ‘new’ economic, post-accession emigrants present there as well? Old and new are relative concepts, and some claim that the time of arrival, rather than difference of features, is the main source of divisions in each such community - what Paul Scheffer describes as the syndrome of the new passenger in a train compartment (Scheffer 2010).

A second remark concerns the sources of changes in the rate and character of migration from Poland. The authors seem to make little distinction between changes that were a direct result of accession, those that were indirectly related to accession, and those that merely coincided with accession but were actually effects of other simultaneous processes. One direct consequence of accession and the opening of the labour markets by Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden was the growth in the rate of migration and a shift in the destinations of emigration from Poland, while the increase in the share of graduates of higher education among migrants had to do with the situation on Poland’s labour market - growing unemployment among college graduates, whose number grew several times as a result of the expansion of higher education. Similarly, changing gender proportions were a result of the general growth of migration of women (Slany 2008) and, indirectly, of the structure of the labour markets of the destination countries. Accession helped to cushion negative developments in Poland’s labour market, by enabling the emigration of a large number of ‘surplus people’ – a term introduced by Florian Znaniecki a hundred years ago – and contributed to reducing social inequality thanks to remittances from abroad, but not all changes in migratory processes can be attributed to accession. It would help to make the direct consequences of accession more evident if a comparison were performed between post-accession emigration from Poland and emigration from other countries, of the so-called old EU. The only attempt at such a comparison was made by Michał Garapich (Lesińska et al. 2014: 283-305), who described transformations in the Polish and Italian diaspora communities in Great Britain - leading to the conclusion that these changes were quite similar between the two, and can be explained as due to general changes of civilisation and the appearance of a new type of emigrant rather than as a consequence of EU accession.

A third remark has to do with the lack of attention to the destination countries’ policies towards migration and social policies. The authors carried out a detailed structural analysis of migration over the last decade, dividing it into two sub-periods: directly following accession, i.e. 2004–2006, and later, when migration entered a ‘mature phase’. It seems correct to distinguish these two periods, as the successive opening of labour markets by further member states presumably influenced the rate of migration from Poland. However, the discussion of the stream of migration presented in the book is purely descriptive, and the authors make no attempt to relate the features of the migratory stream to the labour market situation in the countries of Western Europe and the level of social benefits available to emigrants.

The book is a collection of articles written by a large group of researchers, and, as is often the case with collective works, contains some repetitions, and cases where data and statistics derived from different sources are aggregated in different ways, making comparisons difficult, even across different parts of this book. In spite of such shortcomings, it is a good guide to post-accession emigration from Poland and is recommended reading for all those whose work concerns issues related to recent European migration – be they scholars, politicians, government officials or diaspora organisers.


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