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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 July 2006, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Polish concern as workers migrate
By Tim Whewell
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

They're young, they're keen and they're over here. But can Poland afford to let its skilled workforce settle permanently in the UK?

Kasia and her children
Kasia's husband has no definite plans to return home to Poland
Kasia Tabor is about to say goodbye to the sun-drenched garden in Dzierzoniow where her children Cyprian, aged nine, and Martyna, six, have played all the summers of their lives.

She is going to join her husband Adam who moved to Nottingham two years ago.

She barely speaks a word of English and she does not know where she will be living. But she is gradually becoming convinced there is no future for them at home.

Kasia is following in the footsteps of probably half a million Poles who have moved to Britain after Poland joined the EU in 2004.

Many of them are only temporary migrants who return home after a few months. But evidence is mounting that increasing numbers see their long-term future in the UK.

At first the exodus suited everyone - the UK gained badly-needed labour for workplaces from cafes to operating theatres, and Poland found a solution to its 17% unemployment, the highest in the EU.

But now, Poland is becoming alarmed that it may be seriously damaged by the departure of so many of its brightest and most energetic citizens.

And the exodus is beginning to spark painful questions about where the country is going wrong.

Poland's Ombudsman flew in to the UK to see for himself how the emigrants are faring.

High unemployment

Dzierzoniow, a town of about 35,000 people in south-west Poland, is a typical point of departure for migrants to Britain.

View of small town Dzierzoniow
Polish workers have left Dzierzoniow in search of a better life
Between 500 and 1,000 have already left, fleeing a place where most factories closed after the fall of Communism and one in four people is jobless.

"We are not saying we will never return here," says Kasia. "But for now we just cannot have a normal life here."

Her husband used to be a primary school teacher earning 900 zloty a month - about 180 ($330). He is now earning over 1,000 in a recycling plant in Nottingham.

He intended to stay only a few months, but like many other migrants his life has now improved so much he has no definite plans to go home.

In one recent survey of Polish migrants to Britain, nearly half those questioned would not say when they were returning home, suggesting they were at least considering staying long-term.

Brain drain

Now Rafal Dutkiewicz, the mayor of Poland's fourth-largest city Wroclaw - an hour's drive from Dzerzionow - is so worried that he is planning to travel to Britain in the autumn to urge young migrants to come home.

Rafal Dutkiewicz,
The quality of life here is quite high and will be much higher in the future
Rafal Dutkiewicz, mayor of Wroclaw

"Most probably not today, not tomorrow, but the day after, we will need more people," he says.

He admits it will take 10 years before Polish wages approach those in Western Europe. But he says migrants should come home for other reasons.

"The quality of life here is quite high and will be much higher in the future. And the possibilities for improving your professional career are much greater here than in Western Europe."

But the real crisis is in medicine. A doctor with over seven years experience can earn as little as 200 a month.

In the last two years nearly 10% of the doctors in the Lower Silesia region, which includes Wroclaw, have left the country.

Among anaesthetists the figure is even higher - one in four has emigrated.

Replicate this number across all of Poland's regions and the health service could soon be in a critical condition.

Already there are some cases of anaesthetists having to deal with more than one operation at once - putting patients at serious risk.

Gone forever?

The man responsible for Poland's youngest generation - Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Roman Giertych - blames the exodus on the EU, not on Poland itself.

Poland Deputy Prime Minister Roman Giertych
It is necessary to create some programme to stop the brain drain
Polish Deputy Prime Minister Roman Giertych
"This is why I was against joining the EU. There is a danger many people may never come back home," he says.

"For Great Britain that may even be good news as they are intelligent and not as problematic as Muslim immigrants. But it is necessary to create some programme to stop the brain drain. Poland needs to think about this herself - or propose the idea to the EU."

It is most unlikely the EU would consider any new restrictions on the free movement of labour. But its plans to pour funds into Poland in the next few years may do much to reduce the problem of migration.

Back in Wroclaw, Mayor Dutkiewicz is counting on growth rates of 7-8% a year. "I am sure with huge development we will get people back," he predicts.

"It happened in Ireland - in the 80s many young people left but they came back in the 90s when Ireland really started to prosper. I am sure they will come back."

But his optimism is not enough to persuade Kasia Tabor to stay.

Having shared a house for years with her parents or her in-laws, she thinks she and Adam are far more likely to get a place of their own in Nottingham than down the road in Wroclaw.

"If there are jobs here - and they're real jobs, not just possibilities at some point in the future, we'd come back," she says.

"But it can't be just promises."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents returned on Thursday, 6 July at 1102 BST. The programme was repeated on Monday, 10 July, 2006 at 2030 BST.

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