Posted on February 29, 2008

Tide of Migration Turns As Polish Workers Return

Belfast Telegraph, February 27, 2008

The huge influx of Polish workers, which has transformed the labour market across the country, has peaked, official statistics have disclosed.

More than 750,000 east and central European immigrants have flocked to all parts of Britain since eight former eastern bloc countries joined the EU in 2004. But the tide seems to be turning as the economies of the new EU member states strengthen.

The numbers of east European immigrants approved to work in Britain dropped from 227,875 in 2006 to 206,905 last year, a fall of nearly 10 per cent, and the trend is expected to accelerate over the next decade. Poles, who make up two-thirds of the newcomers, are understood to be returning home in greater numbers, drawn by higher salaries, job shortages and the fall in the value of the pound.

Danny Sriskandarajah, head of migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said some were choosing to work in other EU countries which were loosening employment rules. “Migration from Poland is very unlikely to continue at the levels we have seen in the first few years we have seen after enlargement,” he said. “It has always been a question of when these flows started drying up, rather than whether they would.”

Ministers, who were originally advised that 13,000 east Europeans would come to the UK per year, were caught by surprise at the vast numbers that travelled for Britain after the EU expanded in May 2004. A total of 125,880 moved to the UK in the rest of 2004, followed by 204,970 in 2005. The number climbed to record levels in 2006 before last year’s fall. It is unknown how many remained in Britain as the numbers leaving are not recorded. The vast majority of the 765,630 incomers were 505,300 Poles, followed by 77,000 each from Lithuania and Slovakia. Much smaller numbers have come from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia.

Employers have taken on 296,180 east Europeans in office and administration jobs; 144,450 in hospitality and catering; and 77,245 in farm work. David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The comparative success of the UK economy in recent years has been largely due to the influx of willing workers from eastern Europe.”

Separate Home Office figures also showed 23,430 asylum-seekers claimed refuge in Britain last year, the lowest total since the early 1990s. But the numbers of failed asylum-seekers removed from Britain last year fell by 26 per cent to 13,595. Overall, the Border and Immigration Agency removed 63,140 people from the UK in the year.

Maciek Imiolczyk, 23: ‘It wasn’t like I expected’

When Maciek Imiolczyk came to London at the beginning of last year he was expecting to stay for several years. “I thought I could make much more money there, and that it would be an easy life, but it wasn’t like I expected,” he says.

The 23-year-old from Krakow had a business degree, and hoped to find a well-paid job, but after struggling to find work, he eventually took a post as a receptionist in a hostel. “I couldn’t find anything that paid more than the minimum wage, and it was really hard to live off that. I realised life in London was much tougher than I’d been led to believe.”

After six months of work he became disillusioned and returned to Krakow. Now he works as a tour guide. “The work I do now is better paid, interesting, and my quality of life is infinitely better.”

Chinese immigrants are leaving Ireland in large numbers because they cannot get work permits, a seminar on migration has been told.

Five Chinese restaurants have closed in the past month because they could not get permits for their chefs, according to Dr Katharine Chan Mullen, co-founder of the Irish Chinese Information Centre.

She said the Government’s Green Card system for immigrants was ‘no good’ for the Chinese community, many of whom came here on student visas and are working on low incomes. ‘They don’t want to stay in this country anyway,’ she told Minister of State for Integration Conor Lenihan at a seminar organised by the European Commission in Dublin.

Mr Lenihan said he understood what Dr Chan Mullen was saying, however he said there had been abuses of the student visa system. In many cases, students had worked way above the 20 hours allowed under their visas and had attended ‘brass plate’ language schools that provided ‘threadbare’ levels of tuition.

‘We should be trying to fill our skills needs from within the EU. That is part of our commitment to the EU.’ Up to 90 per cent of skills needs were now being met from within the Union, he said. The Minister had earlier spoken of a ‘massive productivity challenge’ to the country, to move immigrants up to work positions commensurate with their abilities and level of education.

Dr Chan Mullen said many Chinese had been in Ireland for years and still could not read English. She had tried to organise English classes but received no support for premises or other running costs . Siobhán O’Donoghue, director of the Migrant Rights Centre, said immigrants found it difficult to move on from low-paid, low-status jobs as a result of the policies in place in society.

Earlier, Mr Lenihan warned that a failure to manage integration successfully would result in instability and ‘a recipe for disaster’. The Minister said he rejected the extremes of ‘excessive multiculturalism’ on the one hand and ‘dire assimilation’ on the other in favour of an approach that stressed social stability and the avoidance of ghettos.