Polish Migration after the Fall of the Iron Curtain
Article first published online: 14 JAN 2014
© 2014 The Author. International Migration © 2014 IOM
Special Issue: POLISH MIGRATION AFTER THE FALL OF THE IRON CURTAIN
Volume 52, Issue 1, pages 1–3, February 2014
How to Cite
Goździak, E. M. (2014), Polish Migration after the Fall of the Iron Curtain. International Migration, 52: 1–3. doi: 10.1111/imig.12146
- Issue published online: 14 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 14 JAN 2014
Poland has been an emigration country for more than a century. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the enlargement of the European Union in 2004, coupled with unrestricted entry to the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ireland, caused one of the biggest emigration flows in Poland's postwar history. On November 19, 2006, the New York Times reported that 800,000 Poles left the country since Poland joined the EU. The number of Polish residents who stayed abroad for at least two months tripled between early 2004 and early 2007 from approximately 180,000 to 540,000 (Kaczmarczyk and Okólski, 2008). In May 2011, Germany opened its doors fully to jobseekers from Poland paving the way for a flood of cut-price carpenters, plumbers and other budget labour of the kind that swept Britain in 2004 (Hall et al., 2011). Norway and Belgium have also become destinations for post-accession Polish migrants (Mostowska, 2012, 2013). With this exodus Poland became one of the largest exporters of labour within the enlarged European Union. According to the 2011 Polish Census, 2,06 million Poles have resided abroad for at least three months, including 1,6 million who lived outside Poland for longer than 12 months (GUS, 2012).
While the scale of Polish migration has remained on the rise, Polish permanent emigration has been steadily decreasing, giving ways to new migration patterns. The fairly stable migration flows that marked the post-WWII period have dissolved into more complex, transitory patterns in terms of temporary settlement and shifting migration status (Engbersen, Van der Leun and de Boom, 2007). Polish migration no longer takes the form of unidirectional movement from country of origin to destination country that ends with permanent settlement. Post-enlargement migratory movements from Poland have become much more differentiated and have led to a more diverse and floating populations (Danilewicz, 2010; Urbańska 2009). Paraphrasing Bauman's (2000, 2005) work on “liquid modernity”, Polish international migration has become “liquid”. Polish migrants, who for decades regarded the United States as the “promised land”, shifted their focus to Western Europe, much more geographically accessible. Polish migration took a form of ‘pendulum’ or ‘circular’ migration and in some cases transnational commuting. These movements have been governed by the ebb and flow of economic demands and the state of labour markets at home and abroad (Favell, 2008; Mostowska, 2013).
The current issue of International Migration presents a collection of articles, many penned by Polish migration scholars, on a wide variety of issues with important migration policy ramifications. The collection opens with an article by Isański et al. based on an online survey of post-accession Polish migrants who use their spatial mobility to adapt to the new context of post-communist space and EU enlargement in order to enhance their professional qualifications and pursue educational goals. Rather than relying on transnational networking for improving their condition in the country of settlement, many Poles tend to settle within mobility, staying mobile as long as they can in order to improve or maintain a particular quality of life. Their experience of migration becomes their lifestyle, their leaving home and going away, paradoxically, a strategy of staying at home, and, thus, an alternative to what international migration is usually considered to be: emigration or immigration. This does not mean that some Polish migrants do not “extend their stay abroad” and decide to settle outside Poland (McGhee, 2013; Ryan et al., 2009; Ryan and Sales, 2013).
Three different articles follow, aimed at analysing the labour market behaviours of mobile Poles. Fihel and Grabowska-Lusińska focus on pendulum migrants and the effects of their spatial mobility on labour force participation in Poland. The migrants they studied fall into three distinct categories of workers: those who were able to reconcile labour force participation in both sending and destination country or countries; those who abandoned their jobs in Poland in order to engage in short-term, temporary employment abroad; and those who never worked in Poland but maintained meaningful employment abroad. The authors call for policy and programmematic changes at the local level in order to incorporate the experiences of migrants who return to Poland permanently or for shorter or longer periods of time. At the moment, employment experiences of circular or pendulum migrants are not taken into consideration either by job placement or by career counselling programmes. Parutis compares employment experiences of Polish and Lithuanian migrants in the United Kingdom with the focus on the effects of the EU enlargement on Polish and Lithuanian migrants' mobility within the British labour market and the role of cultural capital in enhancing their economic capital. Cieślinska analyses migration narratives of Polish female migrants from Podlasie, a region in Poland with a long history of emigration, and explores the effects of female migration on family relationships and gender roles in Polish households.
Mobility as a strategy can be empowering and can result in “success”. It can become a tool for social innovation and agency as well as an important dimension of social capital provided that migrants retain control over their migration projects. Mobility, however, may also reflect increased dependencies, proliferation of precarious jobs, and labour exploitation that end in “failure”. The next three papers look at Polish male migrants whose migration projects were less than successful, at least in the eyes of the outsiders. Czerniejewska and Goździak base their article on exploratory study of Polish “returned” migrants aided by the Barka Foundation. The authors focus on the period of time shortly after the men were returned to Poland, during the liminal stage of readjustment and decision-making whether to remain in Poland, return to the UK or migrate elsewhere, and analyse the emic (migrants') and the etic (service providers') understanding of the migrants' needs and strategies necessary to aid them upon return to Poland. Garapich and Mostowska look at Polish rough sleepers in London and in Brussels, respectively. Taking an anthropological perspective on how individuals experiencing extreme exclusion negotiate and make sense of structural conditions, Garapich aims at deepening our understanding of these culturally significant meaning-making practices, performed on the streets of London, and the ways they shape the interaction between migrants, the groups they form, and the institutions of civil society and the state. Mostowska presents four categories of homeless Polish men – transient workers, clochards, veterans, and tramps – and explores both their marginalization as well as adaptation to the conditions of living in the streets.
With so much emphasis in the literature on Polish post-accession migration to the UK and Ireland, I am pleased to include in this collection two articles on Polish migrants in Barcelona, Spain, a relatively new destination for Poles. Izabella Main analyses migration narratives of Polish female “repeat migrants” residing in Barcelona. The author looks both at the challenges faced by “repeat migrants” as they adjust to life in new places over and over again, and explores the factors that facilitated their adaptation in Barcelona. While cities have played an important role in immigrant integration policies in Europe, Wladyka argues that smaller units of analysis – such as neighbourhoods – warrant a closer examination in terms of the effects of spatial configurations and social interactions on immigrant integration.
Much attention has been devoted, both in the migration literature and in policymaking, to feminization of migration; less scholarship is devoted to men, particularly to the their roles as fathers and transnational care-givers. The next two articles, by Brannen et al. and Kilkey et al., fill this gap. Last but not least, Akhurst et al. analyse the impact of migration on young students. The authors present a unique developmental perspective on this issue.
In conclusion, while Polish post-1989 migration is by no means representative of all migration from the “other Europe”, it certainly warrants close scrutiny by both migration scholars and policymakers. Its “liquid” nature, particularly shortly after Poland's accession to the EU, and new patterns of settlement, highlight the need to explore these new forms of mobility in order to expand and/or develop new theoretical frameworks to study migration patterns; enhance both theoretical and practical understanding of new forms of mobility and associated processes of integration, identity, and citizenship; and provide policy and programmematic recommendations for decision-makers in Poland and destination countries. In Polish policy circles, despite empirical evidence to the contrary, much of Polish international migration is still debated within a traditional conceptual framework that regards international migration as an unidirectional movement from country of origin to destination country that ends with settlement, usually permanent or at the very least long-term, or permanent return home. Similar assumptions prevail in public discourses. When migrants return home the return is often considered to be a result of a “failed migration project”.
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