Page last updated at 21:20 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 22:20 UK

Poland entices its workers home

By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

According to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, about half of the one million EU workers who have arrived in the UK since 2004 have already returned home.

Ania Tatulinska
Ania Tatulinska said she was not 'brave enough' to stay in the UK

"Five years ago I couldn't see it, but at the moment things are changing and people have more opportunities," Tomek Prusak told me.

Tomek, 30, recently returned after living in London and Edinburgh for four and a half years. He is about to start a new IT job in Warsaw with a large international company.

"The flexibility and opportunities from the European Union are really making this country better and better with good prospects for the future," he said.

In today's borderless Europe it is difficult to know exactly how many Poles have left since the country joined the European Union four years ago.

Poland's main statistical office says 1.95 million people, or 3.3% of the population, left between May 1, 2004 and the end of 2006. Many of those ended up working in the UK and the Irish Republic.

But even a brief scan of the internet forums in Poland indicates that many believe working in Britain is not as lucrative as it once was.

The strengthening Polish zloty is often cited.

I wanted to get to know the culture and learn English
Tomek Prusak

It means those hard-earned savings in pounds are not worth nearly as much when brought back home.

When Poland joined the EU you could get seven zlotys to the pound, now you get a little over four.

The Polish economy is booming too - it is set to grow 5.5% this year. Salaries are also increasing. In February they rose at an annual rate of 12.8%. Poland's unemployment rate, once the highest in the EU, has also fallen rapidly.

"When I left the unemployment rate was over 20% and well-known companies were not active in the Polish market, so me and my friends decided to go to the UK to get some experience. I wanted to get to know the culture and learn English," Tomek said.

At first Tomek worked as a waiter in London. After a while, fed up with the capital's traffic jams, he moved to Edinburgh where he became a technician at the city's university.

Although he missed his family and did not like the local bread and sausages, Tomek said he felt the Scots "accepted" him and his new Polish wife. But family reasons brought the couple home.

Tomek Prusak
Family reasons enticed Tomek Prusak back to Poland

"We were thinking we would like to have a baby in Poland rather than in the UK. In the UK we were alone. Here we've got our families, our parents and they can help us look after the baby.

"We didn't want to rely on benefits in the UK because we're not people like that. We don't want benefits for staying at home with the kids," he said.

Neither of the two migration specialists I spoke to said there were any official statistics to support the theory that Poles are returning home. But both said that fewer people had left last year than in 2006.

Half of the one million EU migrants who have arrived in UK since 2004 have left
665,000 nationals from the 10 newest EU member countries living in the UK in the last quarter of 2007
Every local authority in Britain has registered Polish workers
Source: Institute for Public Policy Research

"Research has shown that a large part of Polish migrants are observing the situation at home via television or the internet. The situation on the Polish labour market is much better now than it was two years ago," said Pawel Kaczmarczyk, a researcher at Warsaw University's Centre for Migration Studies.

He said Polish migrants are mainly employed in low-skilled jobs in sectors like construction or catering. Around 30% of Polish migrants have higher education and 80% are educated to secondary level.

"It's brain waste rather than brain drain. For many, migration can be financially good in the short term but after a while they start to ask if the job is something they want to do for the rest of their life. That's why I expect a large majority to return to take jobs that are equivalent to their skills," he said.

I think I wasn't brave enough, so I gave up and came back to try here
Ania Tatulinska

Ania Tatulinska has already done so.

An accountant with a degree in marketing and management, the 31-year-old spent three and a half years in London as a cleaner, waitress and part-time nanny.

"I didn't want to continue waitressing. It wasn't very satisfying. It was almost like a holiday because it wasn't a proper job. I couldn't find a career.

"I didn't feel my English was good enough to get a proper job. I think I wasn't brave enough, so I gave up and came back to try here," she told me.

Ania is now a logistics specialist near the city of Torun, northern Poland.

On weekends she commutes seven hours by bus to attend her part-time postgraduate studies at the Warsaw School of Economics.

"If my English was fluent, probably I would live in London. There are more opportunities. Maybe it's because I live in a small town, there's just 4,000 people. Even when I come to Warsaw I feel better here.

"But it's not easy to move straight away because of the costs. I do earn more now but I still hear that people are paid so little I think how can they afford to live. It is better now though. When I came back, all my experience in the UK helped me to get a better job here. I'm in my own country and it's easier for me," she said.

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