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Current Developments and Future Challenges | Poland |

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Current Developments and Future Challenges

Stefan Alscher

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

During the accession negotiations between Poland and the EU one issue became the topic of particularly intense discussions: the so-called brain drain (i.e. the emigration of professionals in certain fields, e.g. the medical profession, or highly qualified workers in general, in this case from Poland to Western European countries).

Brain drain

Simultaneously, by introducing measures restricting the free movement of workers during the transition period, the majority of the old 15 EU member states made sure that their labour markets would initially be closed to employees from the new member states. Such measures seemed likely to counteract the brain drain phenomenon.

In the case of labour migration between Poland and Germany (along with the United Kingdom one of the most important destination countries for labour from Poland), movement is affected theoretically at least by the new German Immigration Act in addition to existing bilateral regulations, like those concerning seasonal workers. The new law allows highly qualified persons to access the German labour market and to obtain permanent residency status. It also allows foreign students who have successfully completed their studies to remain in Germany for another year in order to look for a job. Nonetheless, so far the brain drain issue has played a lesser role in connection with Germany. Highly qualified professionals from Poland are more likely to go to the US and Canada.

More recent data from the Labour Force Survey conducted by the International Labour Organisation ILO, however, indicates that emigration among highly qualified Poles has increased since Poland joined the EU. In 2005, 10% of emigrants held a university degree (2004: 5%), 29% a high school diploma (2004: 19%) and 20% had professional training (2004: 16%). Whether these highly qualified migrants remain abroad permanently, thereby contributing to the brain drain, is not clear. Although short-term labour migration continues to dominate, the data show that long-term migration has gained importance and is increasing further. The highest increases were recorded in the numbers emigrating to Ireland and the United Kingdom. Estimates indicate that between 500 000 and one million Poles have migrated to the United Kingdom since Poland joined the EU, many of them as circular migrants. Very recently, however, many Poles have returned to their home country.

Relations with neighbouring countries to the east

The consequences of Poland's accession to the EU for relations with its neighbours to the east, especially Ukraine, were also debated publicly in the course of membership negotiations. In particular, concerns were expressed in the border regions of eastern Poland about possible negative consequences resulting from the introduction of mandatory visas and the tightening of border controls. It was feared that cross-border co-operation, which had been gradually developing during the 1990s, could be made more difficult, and that cross-border family relationships would suffer under a more restrictive border regime. Entrepreneurs from the region expressed their concern that the number of customers from neighbouring countries would decrease. In 2003, when mandatory visas were introduced for citizens of the eastern neighbouring countries, the number of people entering Poland through its eastern border initially decreased by 7.5%. Where the border with Ukraine is concerned, however, an increase in immigrant numbers has been recorded since 2004, with increases also recorded for the borders with Belarus and the Russian Federation since 2005. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen what effect the full implementation of the Schengen Agreement in Poland from 21 December 2007 (land and sea borders) and March 2008 (air borders) and the associated abolition of border controls with other Schengen states will have on migration from neighbouring states to the east.


As an EU member state, Poland will continue to develop into an attractive destination country for migrants, and it will probably continue to evolve from an emigration country into a transit and immigration country. Until now immigration policy and the issue of the integration of foreign citizens in Poland have not been important issues in public debate. Integration policy will, however, continue to move into the foreground, especially because this topic is on the EU's political agenda.



  1. See Kępińska (2006).

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