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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Can Poland woo back its emigrants?
Tim Whewell
By Tim Whewell
BBC Newsnight

The mass exodus of Poland's best and brightest young people to Britain - about half a million are estimated to have come here - is beginning to cause alarm back home.

A Polish family says goodbye to their father before he leaves for England

The main Polish current affairs magazine, Polityka, has launched an incentive scheme called Stay With Us, sponsored by some of Poland's biggest companies, to persuade the country's leading young academics to resist the pull to emigrate.

About 100 scientists and researchers have each received a one-off payment of 5,000, equal to 10 months' pay on average, to stay put.

Hi-tech interest

But the mayor of the country's fourth largest city, Wroclaw, Rafal Dutkiewicz, is going a step further: he is planning to visit Britain in the autumn to persuade Poles who have already left to come home.

Rafal Dutkiewicz, Mayor of Wroclaw
The possibilities for improving your professional career are much greater here than in Western Europe
Rafal Dutkiewicz, Mayor of Wroclaw
Already, he says, shortages of skilled construction workers and IT specialists are threatening his plans to bring dozens of hi-tech foreign companies to the region.

Mr Dutkiewicz says 100,000 jobs will be created around Wroclaw over the next few years as companies such as LG, Phillips, Siemens, Volvo and Hewlett-Packard invest hundreds of millions of pounds.

They are attracted by a highly-educated workforce in a city which produces more than 20,000 graduates a year. But with computer programmers, for example, able to earn more than seven times as much in Britain, many leave as soon as they finish their studies.

"Most probably not today, not tomorrow, but the day after, we will need more people," the mayor told Newsnight.

A construction site in Wroclaw
Investment by foreign companies could create 100,000 jobs
He admits it will take 10 years before Polish wages even approach those in Western Europe, but says migrants should come home for other reasons.

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

Ending the brain drain

But recruiting for jobs in Western Europe is one of Wroclaw's fastest growing businesses, and construction firms are already refusing orders because of a lack of skilled workers such as welders, plasterers and plumbers.

Wroclaw, Poland's fourth largest city, wants to end the brain drain
Mr Dutkiewicz believes that if the economy grows as fast as he is predicting, Polish migrants will return.

"It happened in Ireland," he said. "In the 1980s many young people left, but they came back in the 1990s, when Ireland really started to prosper."

But in the meantime, Poland 's right-wing, nationalist government has warned emigration could have a damaging effect on the country's social fabric.

"This is why I was against joining the EU," said the education minister and deputy prime minister, Roman Giertych.

He says measures must now be taken to end the brain drain. The exodus has set off a debate about the country's failings, epitomised by a recently-released film, sarcastically called Ode to Joy, which contrasts Poland's lack of opportunity with the near-paradise that is Britain.


Although Poland was oversupplied with dentists and ordinary doctors, who understandably leapt at the chance to earn many times more than the 200 a month that can be the salary of a GP with seven or eight years' experience, there are now fears of imminent shortages of nurses and specialists.

Kasia Tabor
For now we just can't have a normal life in Poland
Kasia Tabor
In the Lower Silesia region around Wroclaw, a quarter of the anesthetists have emigrated.

In some cases, those that remain are having to deal with more than one operation at once - putting patients at serious risk.

It's not just the money, though. More and more migrants praise Britain for being a more tolerant society than Poland, and say they're staying longer because it's easier to get promoted on the basis of ability.

"The higher you rise in the professional hierarchy," one doctor wrote back to a Polish paper, "the more you can take advantage of life in an advanced democracy, and the harder it becomes to decide to go back home."

'No plans to go home'

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

Kasia Tabor and her two children are preparing to leave Dzierzoniow, the town in Lower Silesia where she has lived all her live.

Close to 1,000 of the 35,000 inhabitants have already emigrated, including her husband Adam, who packed his bags on 1 May, 2004, the day Poland joined the EU.

As a primary school teacher at home, he earned 900 zloty a month - about 180.

After starting on a building site in Nottingham, he is a supervisor in a recycling plant, taking home between 1,200 and 1,300.

He intended to stay only a few months, but now has no definite plans to go home.

"We're not saying we'll never return [to Poland]," said Kasia. "But for now we just can't have a normal life here."


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