Warsaw, Poland – Since 2006, the United Kingdom has been the favourite destination of Polish workers heading out beyond the borders of their country.
According to new data from Poland‘s Central Statistics Office, the number of Poles in the UK has fallen by 98,000. There are now 695,000 Polish people in the UK, while Germany is home to 706,000.
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Piotr Sliwinski decided to return to Poland after seven years as a banker in the City of London. He told Al Jazeera that in recent years London’s financial appeal has dampened.
“People move away from their family and friends to seek better opportunities and a higher standard of living,” he said. “When the pound-to-zloty exchange rate fell from six to 4.7 zlotys, the financial factor stopped playing such a big role.”
As a result of moving back, he said his standard of life has improved.
“In my industry, the pay is on a comparable level between the UK and Poland. Not in the absolute value, but in local purchasing power.”
After two years as a construction worker in Oxford, Tomasz Dyrecki is also eager to return. He was initially drawn to the UK out of cultural curiosity, but is now mulling over the practicality of having children in a foreign country.
“It would be a very different thing to bring up children in England rather than Poland,” he told Al Jazeera.
“You know, home is home.”
Germany has now become the largest foreign market for Polish workers.
Kamil Wolczyk, who manages Polish recruitment for Germany at the Work Service jobs agency, told Al Jazeera that key considerations for roving Poles are wages, distance from home, and accommodation on the job. In that context, Germany is a convenient choice, with its doorstep proximity and Western salaries.
According to Wolczyk, German companies, especially in healthcare, logistics, construction and manufacturing, are turning their attentions to skilled Polish workers leaving the British Isles.
One hospital in Dusseldorf even put out ads in English-Polish newspapers, offering to help with finding accommodation in Germany, as well as introducing them to the Rhineland carnival to ease resettlement.
There appears to be plenty taking up the opportunity. “We’re seeing more and more Polish job candidates [in Germany] who list work experience in the UK on their CVs,” Wolczyk told Al Jazeera.
He said German bosses were also relaxing language expectations for temporary workers, in part thanks to government funds earmarked for companies who want to invest in language training for new staff.
Since the previous Central Statistics Office report a year previously, the number of Polish workers has edged up by 3,000 in both Germany and the Netherlands, the third-most popular destination, but remained largely unchanged for most countries.
It’s coming home
Yet the majority of workers on the move are choosing to come back to Poland. New data shows that for the first time in nearly a decade the stock of Poles working abroad has shrunk by 85,000.
Mariusz Dzieglewski, a sociologist studying migration at the Pedagogical University of Cracow, has interviewed returning migrants and found that the timing is usually down to family dynamics:
“There comes a moment, when parents look at their children and realise that they have to leave now or never. That’s because as the children grow up, they will have most of their friends in that country, soon find a partner, and by that point, it will be too late to return.”
For many Poles, however, economics has dictated their ebb and flow. The largest wave of Poles went westwards after 2004, when Poland first joined the EU, in search of better-paid jobs at a time when unemployment at home was high. Now, Poland has its lowest unemployment in 28 years, and the economy grew 5.1 percent in 2018.
Conscious of the labour shortage, the current government has made it one of its priorities to lure Poles back.
Commenting on the new figures this week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Parliament:
“This is a great levy, that Poland has paid to rich Western nations. Such a levy from the poor to the rich is not normal. A country of high living standards needs to put an end to this.”