Skip to comments.EU migration less than some feared
Posted on 08/07/2004 7:22:57 AM PDT by Grzegorz 246
Last spring, in the weeks before the European Union (news - web sites) expanded to include Poland and nine other nations, London's tabloid press launched a screechy campaign claiming that Britain's labor market would soon be swamped by a vast tide of immigrants.
"Millions" of job seekers, welfare tourists, car thieves, Gypsies and prostitutes were buying their plane tickets before the May 1 expansion date, the tabloid Cassandras warned.
Immigration experts were skeptical. They predicted much smaller numbers.
The experts were right.
A mere 8,172 people from the new member countries joined Britain's work registry in May and June, according to government figures. The 14,422 who were already in the country also joined the registry, legalizing their status.
About 59 percent of the total were from Poland, which is consistent with Poland's size in comparison with the other new member countries--the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.
"That isn't a flood. Those numbers are extremely manageable," said Christopher Thompson, political secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw.
The unfettered movement of labor was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the EU, but almost as soon as plans to expand the union were announced, Germany and Austria, which border the Eastern countries, were demanding a seven-year moratorium on the migration of labor.
Other EU countries, most notably Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, argued for open borders, but they changed their minds as the enlargement date drew near. Only Britain and Ireland agreed to keep their doors open.
"Britain tries to look at this in a positive way," Thompson said. "The jobs are there, and the economy is in a position to use new labor."
Polish authorities estimate that 15,000 Poles have gone to Britain to look for work since May 1 but that about 8,000 have returned.
Mariusz Kandziora, who is from Ustron, a small town in southern Poland, is typical. Although he has a university history degree, Kandziora, 31, has been able to find work in Poland only as a $1-an-hour security guard.
He bought a plane ticket to London in June and moved into what he described as "the cheapest apartment in the city"--$65 a week, and he had to share a kitchen and two bathrooms with 15 other people, most from Eastern Europe.
He was hoping to find a construction job but was surprised by London's high cost of living and ran out of money.
Back in Ustron now, he plans to give London another try next month.
"The minimum wage there is 4 1/2 pounds [about $8.30] an hour. If I had a son, I would hit him over the head with a book and tell him to be a plumber," he joked.
Polish officials said they never believed the scare stories coming out of Britain or, for that matter, Germany and Austria.
"The days of big migrations are behind us. The last was after World War II. There was another during martial law [December 1981 to July 1983], but that was a political migration," said Teodozjusz Falenczyk, an analyst with Poland's Ministry of Economy, Labor and Social Policy.
"Most Poles who are going abroad are looking for short-term financial gain, but they don't have an immigration mentality," he said.
He noted that when Germany, chronically short of computer engineers, recently changed its immigration laws to encourage applicants from Eastern Europe and Asia, only 80 Poles tookthe offer despite a surplus of engineering expertise in Poland.
Doctors, dentists and nurses are another story. Falenczyk and other experts say they are very worried that Poland could have a huge loss of highly skilled health-care workers.
Polish doctors in demand
In recent months, Belgium, the Netherlands and especially Sweden have been aggressively recruiting Polish doctors to fill gaps in their national health services. Meanwhile, Poland's health-care system is in a state of crisis.
"The salaries [abroad] are 10 to 15 times higher," said Aldona Cieslicka, 34, a physician about to finish her residency in Kielce, a large town south of Warsaw. "Among our friends, I would say most--50 percent for sure--are thinking seriously about leaving Poland."
Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, a sociologist and chairman of the Polish Academy of Sciences, said he feared a brain drain if the government does not do more to retain its best-educated citizens.
He said that lack of language skills and poor job prospects discourage the least talented of Poland's unemployed from looking abroad but that young, highly educated professionals had no qualms about leaving.
"We know that skilled workers are much more mobile than unskilled workers," he said.
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