As the tide of Polish immigration starts to turn, the UK cannot rely solely on EU workers to fill the employment gaps.
The number of workers from Poland applying to work in the UK has dramatically fallen for the first time since 2004, according to Government figures.
Figures published by the Border and Immigration Agency this month reveal that just 38,680 Poles signed up to the Government’s register of migrant workers in the third quarter of 2007, down 18% from the previous year.
Thousands more are leaving, according to the Polish Embassy, blaming UK economic conditions and a weakening pound.
The Centre for International Relations, a Warsaw-based think-tank, predicts that up to half of the estimated one million British-based Poles are expected to return home.
Jan Mokrzycki, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, said:
“The economy in Poland has picked up and unemployment has dropped down. There are jobs advertised all over the place. Manufacturers are looking for labour and especially skilled labour. In 2012 we have the football world championships coming. They are building stadiums and hotels and so there are jobs available.
“Adding to this – people want to go home because their friends and families are back there and if there is no economic necessity for them to remain in the UK, they will go back home.” he said.
Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, 472,103 applications from Poles have been approved for work in the UK. Polish workers make up 66% of all workers from the eight Eastern European EU accession countries who can work in the UK.
Actual statistics on the number of Poles leaving Britain do not exist, as there are no embarkation controls so they are are not counted out. But Polish officials, British employment agencies and the Polish media all believe that the tide of immigration has turned.
Danny Sriskandarajah, head of Migration, Equalities and Citizenship team at the Institute of Public Policy Research, said:
“Polish immigration into Britain, we’ve always said it was a circular phenomenon and it’s less floodgates and more turnstiles. Young Poles are coming here for a year and then they go home. All the signs are there. Some say this is linked to the UK economy as the Polish economy is stronger and the pound is much weaker.
“I think there are other factors like more opportunities open for the Poles, they can work in many more European countries thanks to enlargement. Also in the key sectors like in construction – there an increase in demand and British officials are expecting that Poles will stay and work but actually young Poles might just want to stay in Poland.”
The trend could be disastrous for certain sectors of British industry, already suffering from a combination of severe staff shortages and a hardening of immigration policy on non EU nationals.
My own experience in helping Eastern Europeans to work in the UK is that few intend to stay here for more than a year or two. And having visited the booming countries of Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, I cannot blame them for wanting to return home to their friends and families as soon as possible.
Non EU migrants, however, usually here on Work Permits, from India, the Philippines or Africa, are far more likely to want to settle and make a new life in the UK.
The Government is counting on continuing EU migration to fill labour shortages, and it may have to rethink plans to put non EU immigration policy into reverse gear.
This month the BIA has removed 38 occupations from the national shortage list, and is deporting Senior Carers who have fallen into the ‘snakes and ladder’ trap following changes to the rules on Work Permits and Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Liam Byrne has made it clear that lower skilled jobs are expected to be filled from within the EU. But employers in industries such as Catering and Hospitality and Health Care struggle to recruit and retain staff from a transient EU work force.
What these industries need is a steady supply of committed workers who want to stay in the UK for the long run.
In a widely reported story last week, a shortage of chefs in curry house kitchens is already threatening the supply of the nation’s favourite food.
Keith Best, Chief Executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, warned that the Government had mistakenly assumed that vacancies in the curry industry would be filled by Eastern Europeans.
But, he added, “they have no cultural sensitivity towards or understanding of the curry industry”.
Like the care industry, thousands of restaurants would not be able to run without overseas staff. In the last few days I have talked to at least two restaurant owners, one Indian and the other Turkish, who employ specialist Chefs on Work Permits.
Both told me that there is no way they could survive without those foreign workers and family support. But both added that whilst they had joined the family business their children would not be doing the same.
The points based system being launched in a few weeks time is unlikely to deliver the type of staff needed to run the UK’s care homes, hotels and restaurants.
The combined effect of an immigration system aimed largely at highly skilled migrants and Eastern Europeans staying at home could not only see your local takeaway serving its last Tikka Masala, but more seriously your elderly relative being put at risk.
Ironically, the people the Government is trying to encourage to come to the UK, are saying “no thanks” and going home, whilst those from outside the EU who desperately want to stay, are being forced to leave.