Geopolitics

The Promised Land For Poles Today? Poland

Western European employers had hoped for a flood of new qualified workers from the new E.U. member states of Eastern Europe. And though requests jumped as soon as the last barriers were lifted, more and more from Poland and elsewhere are deciding to stay

Gdansk (Michael Cavén)
Gdansk (Michael Cavén)
Ulrich Krökel

GDANSK - Mateusz Lipczynski has seen the world. He worked for several years as a software developer in southern Germany and Switzerland. Later, he spent time in London and then New Zealand. But now the 34-year-old has settled on one thing for his future: he never again wants to live permanently outside his native Poland. "Here, I have my family, my friends, my language," says the young man.

Lipczynski is an ideal worker. Employers in Switzerland and Germany want him just as much as Polish businesses. The eloquent computer scientist is highly qualified: well educated, dedicated, and open-minded, but also modest and socially entrenched.

But the dream man of western human resource managers says unequivocally: "Emigration is no longer an option for me." In Switzerland, everything was better organized than in Poland, he admits. "But life is good in Gdansk, and I am glad that my (one-year-old) daughter will not have to grow up in a foreign country."

Lipczynski confirms what many have been saying since the labor market was opened on May 1 for the European Union's new batch of Eastern European citizens. The expected westward rush has not come to pass. Switzerland is no more a Promised Land than the neighboring countries of Austria and Germany, who also opened their labor market to citizens of the new "EU-8" member states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Of course, overall, the new opening has marked a significant change. In Switzerland, the number of work permits given to citizens of EU-8 countries skyrocketed this past year – up by 710% in May, by 340% in June, and by 270% in July and August. However, the absolute numbers, which have now leveled off at about 600 immigrants a month, are manageable.

High-end shops, lower cost of living

In Germany, few labor forecasts were actually met. During the first four months of free movement, only 15,000 more people came than during the same period last year – only half of what experts had expected. Disappointment is spreading among contractors north of the Alps. The German economy is urgently looking for professionals. Many companies had great hopes that highly qualified people would at last join the labor market once it was opened to the East.

Mateusz Lipczynski is a good example of why this has not happened. From 2001 to 2006, the 34-year-old worked as a computer scientist in the Black Forest and later in Aargau. But then he returned to Poland. "My home has changed dramatically in recent years," he says, referring to "the many high-end shops' that now line the streets in Gdansk. And he adds that given the lower cost of living and low tax levels, he can save as much money in Gdansk as he would have been able to while living in the West.

What does this all mean? That the most intense period of emigration from Eastern Europe is probably over. Whoever wanted to move away from Poland, Hungary or the Baltic States, experts say, has long since emigrated to Great Britain or Scandinavia. There, the barriers to EU-8 migrants were lifted in 2004.

Lipczynski "wanted to live in Switzerland," citing more hospitable locals than in Germany, where he says the stereotype of the lazy Pole is still widespread. Switzerland has an economic interest to keep this welcoming culture alive, and ditch its quota system, to allow for as many qualified workers as possible. The real challenge may wind up being that people like Lipczynski won't want to leave home in the first place.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Michael Cavén

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