Polish emigration to the United Kingdom during the Second World War and after it had a political dimension, while the wave after Poland’s accession to the EU – was by economic. As shown by the latest survey, the current Polish emigration to the UK and Ireland consist mainly of young and educated people – mostly under 35 years old, with secondary or third level education, and a large part of them take jobs below their qualifications abroad (Ślusarczyk, 2010: 22–23).
In a study of emigration processes one can distinguish the following four criteria that intertwine: purpose (work/study or political emigration); intentions (voluntary or coercive); direction (continental or overseas); number (group or individual) (ibid). There is also a new purpose of leaving the home country- many Poles decided to leave in order to experience living in another country, to learn about another culture and people – thus, it can be said to be a cultural or psychological motivation (Dutka, 2006: 89–118).
Research on contemporary Polish emigration show that more and more decisions about transforming the short-term emigration into a long-term residency is taken during their stay abroad (Ślusarczyk, 2010:22). The effect is to bring loved ones from Poland or starting a family in the country of residence. Often decisions on permanent residence are conditioned economically – in spite of work below professional qualifications, lots of immigrants prefer to stay abroad because of sufficient earnings and the system of social support from the state of residence that give them the ability to maintain a standard of living that suits them and that they want to provide for their families. Decisions on permanent residence are also associated with the criterion of integration or assimilation into the culture of the country of settlement, which often is attractive for immigrants, for example due to lifestyle, mentality of the host society, socio-administrative organization or generally understood ‘atmosphere’ prevailing in this country (Internet Source 2). It should also be noted that the decision to change the nature of the settlement for permanent residence abroad is also influenced by the Polish community which lives in this particular place. What is important here, is the development of a kind of a network of migrants by a local Polish community. In other words: activity of Polonia settled already there has advisory nature: introduces new members to life in a foreign environment, translates and presents different aspects of life in the country of residence. Therefore, if in some country it works well, even with a basic knowledge of a foreign language (and thus, lower level of adaptation) a person can opt for permanent residence abroad.
Decisions about returning to Poland or continuing the cycle of migration (change of country of residence, but not returning to their homeland) are based on several factors that determine the life of Poles abroad (Slany, Ślusarczyk, 2010: 163–177; Nowicka, 2010: 190–206). In my opinion, the criteria mentioned below have the most significant influence on Poles’ decision to return or change a country of residence:
- plans and life goals (fulfilment of plans or failure);
- degree of adaptation in the country of settlement;
- ties with the home country (family, cultural, civic ties).
Due to the first criterion we can distinguish a group of people who come back to their homeland because of attainment of goals planned before departure – it is mostly a financial ceiling that the person wants to achieve, or a specified length of the stay. They may also include plans for education abroad. This group will therefore include those that have been successful, as well as those affected by failure and so return due to non-fulfilment of financial plans or education. It should also be noted that this group may also include people who are returning because of the improving situation (usually economic) in the home country, which enables them to realize their life plans there.
Based on the second criterion we can distinguish decisions that are based on insufficient (in the opinion of the emigrant) degree of adaptation in the host country. This situation can affect people with poor knowledge of the official language of the country of settlement – that constitutes a serious barrier to integrate and contribute to living in “isolation”. On the other hand, those who know the language and the culture of the host society well, often decide to return as well, because they do not feel ‘like home’ in the country of settlement and have a constant awareness of being immigrants (Nowicka 2010: 193). Two more factors that have a high impact on decisions on emigrants’ stay abroad are the policy of the country of settlement and the attitude of its society towards immigrants.
For some Poles, the impact of ties with the home country is often the most important factor when deciding to return. In this group there are people who come back because of missing their families, loved ones and friends who remained in Poland. Tie with the homeland is also a yearning for native culture and customs of the individual that he/she has missed abroad, and which she/he knows and understands the most. There is also a group of people whose decisions to return are based on a sense of obligation to their home country (even if it is associated with the deterioration of the economic situation of the emigrant) – it can be said that it is a return of patriotic or civil motivation (Slany, Ślusarczyk, 2010: 174–175).
Of course, it should be noted that the reasons for any decision relating to leaving one’s home country, staying abroad or returning to their homeland are usually complex and dependent of many intertwining factors of a personal nature. There are situations of returning to their homeland at the age of retirement, further migration (change of host country) or re-emigration after some time spent in their homeland. These issues have been extensively studied and discussed in many sociological and psychological studies of contemporary migration.
This text is a fragment of the article The Changing Nature of the Polish Community in Great Britain and Ireland: Past and Present Motivation to Emigrate that appeared in the Irish-Polish Society Yearbook (vol III, 2016). The entire article is available HERE.
E. Sękowska, Język emigracji polskiej w świecie, Kraków 2010, pp. 26-27.
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[in:] Grzymała-Moszczyńska H., Kwiatkowska A., Roszak J. (2010) Drogi i rozdroża. Migracje Polaków w Unii Europejskiej po 1 maja 2004 roku. Analiza psychologiczno-socjologiczna, Kraków.
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