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Times are a-changing!: “Home� for the Holidays in the EU

By: Anna Mazurkiewicz, Ph.D., University of Gdansk and Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow in Residence at the IHRC

Prompted by the approaching holiday air travel season (still a new thing for most Poles), I began to wonder about the people first traveling home to Poland for Christmas from their new homes elsewhere in Europe before returning again to New Year’s parties with their new friends in London, Stockholm or Madrid.

The findings of a recent special report of Poland’s Office of the Committee for European Integration (UKIE)
describe the most likely travelers of this holiday season. They are young (in the U.K. 84% of Polish employees are under 34), educated (57% have graduated from high school), grew up mid-sized or small towns in Poland, and found job elsewhere in service occupations (30% for U.K).

In March 2007 the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the Institute of Public Affairs to prepare a socio-demographic analysis of Polish job migration within the European Economic Area before and after Poland joined the EU (May 1st 2004).
The results are the same. For the last 3 years, it has been is the young, the educated, and the articulate that leave Poland. Open job markets in the West (except for Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg) lure the young. According to a study cited in the UKIE’s report 32% of Polish respondents under age 24 declared a willingness to leave Poland. By contrast, only 20% of Poland’s unemployed and 22% of Poland’s blue collar workers declared their willingness to seek employment abroad.

Is this a “brain drain�? With higher education still free in Poland, many get their diplomas and leave in order to wash dishes in British, Irish, Swedish or Spanish restaurants and bars. Conversely, Polish news magazines feature stories of the most successful migrants who have begun careers in engineering, banking, and science.

Some Europeans have even suggested that the EU create a “Blue Card� policy. (Does that sound familiar to American readers familiar with “green cards�—which are actually not green at all?) It should--for the blue card proposed by the European Commission on October 23rd would offer two years legal residence and work permits in any EU country but only for a highly-qualified non-EU citizen. Upon the completion of the two year period, it would be possible to move to another EU country, provided a job offer is secured, or one would have to return to his/her country of origin. Hence the big difference between green and blue.

It is not easy for the European Union to compete with the U.S. or Canada to attract well educated immigrants. For example, EuroPap found 85% of well-educated immigrants from the Maghreb countries residing either in the U.S. or Canada. At the same time highly qualified immigrant employees constitute 1.72% of EU’s workforce (the comparable figure is 9.9% in Australia 9.9%, 7.3% in Canada).

Many Poles see this “blue card� proposal as restrictive in yet another way since it protects but also potentially drains the educational resources of newly admitted member-countries such as Poland. If a company receives a job application from an engineer from India, it would be able to employ him with a “blue card� only if no Polish or Hungarian engineer applied. Poles do apply for such highly qualified jobs since they can earn 10 times what they would for the performance of similar tasks in their country of origin.

To read more on this initiative go to European Commission’s webpage

So is Polish exodus to Western Europe just another wave of Polish emigration, comparable to early migrations of laborers to France or the United States. Not quite. Today’s departers often expect to return and it is easy for them to do so. Migrating within the EU they need not give up their Polish citizenship. Maintaining close family ties poses no major troubles. In my view, a person moving from Gdansk to Dublin is little different than an American moving from Detroit to a better job in Seattle.

Over the next few weeks the new cheap airlines, that have opened direct connections between the Old and New Europe, will once more carry loads of people who want to be HOME for Christmas. Some will soon return for good. Others will choose to remain in the West and thus add to the new wave of well educated, predominantly young people who no longer tend to think of themselves as Poles only, but rather consider themselves Europeans of Polish origin.

In Europe, the times are definitely a-changing!