Poland has been opening up to labor migration from the east for years. English-language courses are increasingly aimed at specialists from Asia and Africa.
Warsaw – In recent years, Polish streets, schools and work offices have become visibly more colorful. While the country has refused to accept refugees from the Middle East, it has also opened the doors wide to other types of immigration.
According to the official figures from the Polish Immigration Office at the end of 2020, a good 267,000 people have a temporary right of residence in Poland. Another 78,000 applicants have a permanent right to stay. A total of 450,000 people came to Poland to live, study and work here by the end of 2020. The first statistics for 2021 assume further strong growth. The majority of immigrants are in the 20-39 age group.
However, the actual number of foreigners in Poland is likely to be much higher. The Polish Economic Institute (PIE) estimates around 1.1 million in its current report. Many foreign workers also take advantage of seasonal employment in Poland, which since 2018 has been a full nine months within a year. On the other hand, over 780,000 foreign contributors were counted in the social security statistics in April. This also includes self-employed people who run a company in Poland or who are self-employed.
Immigration country Poland: Currently over 53 percent of immigration from Ukraine
Oksana (36), Roman (38) and their son Andre (5) came to Poland from the Ukraine, as are currently more than 53 percent of immigrants. Both spouses have several brilliant degrees and belong to the group of highly sought-after specialists. They did not have any problems looking for work. Roman had already received a job offer from a Polish employer while the family was still living in western Ukraine. With this confirmation, he was then allowed to apply for a visa and come to Poland at the beginning of 2019.
The bureaucratic effort for applying for the right of residence was enormous and in Poland * is basically the responsibility of the employer. Roman waited around a year for the final decision. The first time in the new environment was associated with ups and downs for the small family. They quickly found an apartment in the center of Poznań and then a place in kindergarten for their boy, but it was difficult for the toddler at first. Andre didn’t understand a word of the foreign language and so didn’t connect with people of the same age. “That was a critical moment when he kept crying,” say the parents, who now both speak Polish fluently. When it comes to single words, they quickly switch to English so that they can master all situations well. Andre babbles all the more today, completely accent-free in Polish.
Poland: Many immigrants from Ukraine and Belarus are learning Polish as the language of instruction
It is positive that Ukrainians, Poles and Belarusians are shaped by a common history and similarities in the cultural field. This makes living together easy. Many Catholics with Polish roots still live in Belarus. For some of them, Polish is also the language of instruction in the coveted Polish-speaking high schools. Likewise in western Ukraine, where the closeness to Poland is evident in the language, but also in the religion. Many binational marriages and partnerships are therefore a natural consequence of the encounters between many young people from Ukraine * and Poland.
Friends, family and religion play a central role in the integration of immigrants. The Polish roots of Władek (21) from Kazakhstan have contributed to the fact that only one Polish university was considered for study. Władek’s ancestors were forcibly relocated to the Kazakh steppe during the Stalinist terror. Today her great-great-grandson is studying security policy at one of the best universities in Poland. “I feel at home here,” replies the young student when asked whether there are any other emigration options for him.
Władek is also active in the student group of his parish. Especially in the large student cities such as Kraków, Warszawa or Poznań, such groups are part of student coexistence. For the students from other countries, the common religion is an important hold in a society that is foreign to them.
At the same time, for some Poles everything is going too fast. Jerzy (74) is scared when he hears so many Russian-speaking people on the street. This language arouses in him fears of Soviet terror. The older man, who is committed to democracy and freedom, fears that Russia * will take advantage of this situation in the medium term to create unrest in Poland.
Poland: Bureaucratic obstacles to work permits for people from non-EU countries have a deterrent effect
The bureaucratic effort involved in applying for a work permit for citizens from non-EU * countries is still a deterrent for many Polish employers. The information pages of the authorities are overloaded with legal terms and the experience with the overloaded offices does not exactly contribute to the fact that smaller and inexperienced companies hire workers from abroad. “I would have to work it out for at least a week, which is impossible,” says Patrycja (36), who runs a small lunch bar in Poznań together with her sister.
The recruiters, who act as employers themselves and leave workers to Polish companies, are only too happy to use this for themselves. The minimum wage in Poland, which is 2800 zl / gross (the equivalent of 640 euros) per month, protects the foreign workers at least from gross exploitation; it cannot entirely prevent the less transparent recruitment companies from further benefit from the hardship, e.g. with the costs for accommodation pull their staff.
In addition to Georgians and Moldovans, more people from Asia and Africa are now coming to Poland. Vengat (24) from India is one of them. He completed the English-language master’s degree at the Poznan Technical University in record time. The well-structured technical subjects, some of which are school-based, are popular with Indian students. Vengat stayed in Poland after studying logistics and is satisfied that as a young professional in the e-commerce sector he can lead an independent life including his own rental apartment. The young man plans to stay in Poland, although other EU countries are also tempting for him.
New home for immigrants in Poland? It depends on a number of factors
Whether the young immigrants actually stay in Poland permanently depends on many factors. For some of them, purely personal and family issues will play a role. For others, the labor market situation in Poland and in the other EU countries could be important. The Polish university lecturers are already observing increased interest among foreign students, for example in looking for a job in Germany. However, the long-term development in Poland’s eastern neighbors is likely to be of decisive importance. The political and social conditions are still a key push factor.
The feeling that drives many immigrants is the longing and the hope that one day they will be able to contribute to the success and development of their own country. Most Poles can understand this feeling very well, as they themselves are among the largest number of emigration countries. Hardly any other society knows so well what it means to move abroad for a better life. “You put your own ideas and wishes aside so that the children have it better,” says Roman. (Aleksandra Fedorska) * Merkur.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.