Poles Go Home to Greener Pastures

Jan Cienski, Financial Times, April 1, 2008

Aneta Tatulinska has no regrets about being back in Poland after three years in Britain, where she worked as a waitress, nanny and cleaner.

Now an accountant and finishing a business degree in Warsaw, she came home a year ago after finding it hard to make a career in Britain.

“I hadn’t gone to university to serve coffee and make a little bit more money,” she says. “I think the UK is best for people who have no prospects in Poland.”

More and more Poles who moved to west European countries after Poland joined the EU in 2004 are coming to the same conclusion. There are no firm numbers on the flow of migrants in a borderless Europe where many people work seasonally, returning frequently to Poland by bus or cheap airline. But anecdotal evidence suggests the outflow is diminishing and people are starting to come home.

Krzysztof Bieniek, who owns a Warsaw construction company, says it is getting easier to hire new workers. This week he is meeting two of his former workers who had moved to Germany, but are now back in Poland and hoping for a job.

The wave of migration began when about a fifth of Polish workers were without jobs and Polish salaries were far lower than in western Europe. Over the last couple of years, however, official unemployment has dropped to 11.5 per cent, while the true rate is probably much lower.

Pay packets are fatter—salaries rose in February at an annual rate of 12.8 per cent. The zloty has also risen sharply against both the pound and the euro, while Poland’s economy is also expanding much more strongly, with growth of 5.5 per cent expected this year.

“The most important cause of returns is the changing situation in both countries,” says Pawel Kaczmarek, who studies migration at the University of Warsaw.

Finally, many Poles, like Ms Tatulinska, found it was easy to get low paid, entry-level jobs in Britain, but much more difficult to break into professional work where the pay would be enough to contend with the high living costs of British cities. They are finding it much easier to get on the career ladder back home. “I say to our recruits, ‘Stay and work in Poland and in a few years the people who’ve gone to work in England will be back and they’ll be working for you,’” said Pawel Lobejko of Accenture, the consultancy, at a conference on labour migration.

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