Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 14:11 UK
Recession moves migration patterns

Turnstiles not floodgates for Polish workers
By Rob Broomby
BBC News, Warsaw

Ania Rosiak has fallen in love with her native city.

Ania Rosiak
Some Polish workers are now returning from the UK

After working for almost 14 months in a bank in Glasgow, she is thrilled to be back in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

Tucking into waffles and cream by the fountain in Saski Park, she tells me her time in Britain was an adventure; "a very important episode" in her life, rather than a migration journey.

Since some former communist countries joined the European Union in 2004, about 1.3 million East Europeans have travelled to Britain to work, but by the end of 2008, almost half of them had already returned.

That still leaves a not insignificant 700,000 in the UK, but a report on global migration patterns after the recession, commissioned by the BBC, showed that though many migrants around the world had decided to stay on in their new homes and try to survive the downturn, migrants from the former communist countries have been going home, and fewer new migrants are coming.

Less fruitful

The reasons are simple: when Poland joined the EU in 2004, unemployment was at 20% whereas the British economy was strong and there were plenty of jobs.

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All that has changed now. The Polish currency, the zloty, has strengthened against the pound making work in Britain less fruitful to migrants, and while the UK has been in recession, Poland has just registered modest growth of 1.1%.

Warsaw now has an unemployment rate below that of London, but the report by the Migration Policy Institute says movement between the Eastern European countries and Britain is now "temporary and circular", with people coming and going all the time, often seasonally.

The freedom of movement within the EU means that the UK labour market is always just a budget airline ticket or bus fare away.

Changed model

Karolina Kosmala of the Omega Resource Group says her company has had to change its business plan.

"Our model has changed completely," she says.

Where once they were recruiting skilled Polish staff for UK companies, they are now trying to attract them back home.

"We are taking people from Great Britain to Italy, from Italy to Poland and from Poland to Germany," she says.

Ania is now hoping to set up her own translation business. Like many young, well-educated Poles, she was doing a job in Britain for which she was overqualified.

"How long can someone with a masters degree in law or engineering work as a hotel chambermaid or barman?" asks Michael Dembinski of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce.

'London is my life'

At Warsaw's main international bus terminal the traffic to and from Britain has eased, but the coaches still head for London full of people.

Bus from Warsaw to London
Regular busses still run from Warsaw to London

Breaking off in the midst of an emotional farewell to his son, one Polish builder, who would not give his name, says he loves Britain.

"Poland is my heart," he says, but "London is my life". He is not planning to return to Poland permanently anytime soon.

Modern migration, at least within the EU, is now more like a turnstile than a one way street.

But just as claims of floods of migrants arriving in the UK may have only ever told half the story, the suggestion that they are all heading home is equally deceptive.

For Michael Dempinski the change of direction is "significant, but we have not seen a million in and a million out", he says.

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