Immigration to Poland in the Context of Global Economic Changes.
Immigration is a complex topic. The arrival of immigrants to a country is seen as a manifestation of prosperity and economic opportunities, something that theoretically every government in the world should boast about in election campaigns. However, in practice, immigration is currently one of the most burning political issues, and parties advocating for restricting migration or increasing control over it often gain support, especially among less educated individuals, often referred to as “blue-collar workers.” These workers fear increased competition in the job market, leading to lower wages or unemployment.
Migration Throughout History.
When we talk about immigration today, we often envision dramatic phenomena. The images that come to mind are usually contemporary events, such as millions of people from Eastern Europe immigrating to the United Kingdom after the EU accession, individuals storming the desert border between the USA and Mexico, or the memorable scenes from 2015 in Southern Europe involving African immigrants or the situation at the Poland-Belarus border since 2021.
However, migration is a continuous process dating back to ancient times. Migrations are natural; since ancient times, people have “voted with their feet” in search of the best place in the world to develop their talents and secure a better future for their children. For those who doubt, there are increasingly popular DNA ancestry tests. Importantly, migrations are an ongoing process influenced by the global economic situation and each country’s position in the global value chain. It is the role of governments to manage immigration in a way that reconciles the fear of part of the population and demagogic opposition with the need for a supply of new workers driven by economic demands. Interestingly, we might soon witness a lasting shift in the paradigms of the global economy.
Globalization and Its Consequences.
In the 1980s, the Western world embraced economic liberalism and globalization, led by the Anglo-Saxon duo of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. China saw this as a golden opportunity for economic success, and its participation in globalization became one of the foundations of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Now, forty years later, China, the economic dragon, has caught up with the American eagle. China not only provides the world with vast industrial resources but also supplies the raw materials needed for the most significant socio-economic challenge of our time: the energy transition. Simultaneously, China seeks military parity with the USA, aiming to disrupt American dominance in Asia. In this pursuit, China is eyeing the lion’s share of the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and the enclave that has kept them awake for over 70 years, claiming to be the “real” China—Taiwan. A potential invasion of Taiwan, due to ideological closeness, international interests, and defense commitments, could lead to a war between the two largest global powers.
In anticipation of this conflict, the USA has started pressuring its European partners to plan an economic “divorce” from China. The pandemic undoubtedly facilitated this process, as the paradigm that capital has no nationality because it can always be transferred anywhere on Earth shattered, and goods did not leave Chinese ports for months. In recent weeks, individual U.S. states have already begun leasing companies with Chinese capital, such as the state of Arkansas with the company Syngenta. Some European governments, especially the UK and Central and Eastern European countries, have started adding Chinese companies, particularly in the technology sector, to sanction lists. In short, due to political risk, Europe and North America will have to seek a new heart for industry—relatively inexpensive yet politically more trustworthy. In this context, the dream of many politicians, entrepreneurs, and analysts is for Poland to be that place.
Between Dreams and Reality.
Regardless of the assessment of Poland’s chances, attention should be paid to the consequences of this situation for the labor market. With dramatic demographic projections for Poland, a large number of immigrants would be needed to effectively meet the demand for labor. Hence, there are bold but perhaps imprudent ideas circulating about Poland having 50 million inhabitants in 27 years, as proposed in the document “Agenda Polska Strategia” prepared in 2018 by the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers and the Warsaw Enterprise Institute. The economic and political strength of Poland may ultimately depend on its ability to attract these people to the country, potentially sparking resistance from the native population. This seems inevitable, given the opposition to the trace amounts of immigrants that the European Union tried to relocate to Poland in recent years.
An alternative to a massive immigration initiative would, of course, be a demographic boom on a scale even larger than the post-war period. However, the chances of this happening are slim to none. Labor market experts have been emphasizing for years that basing the economy and social policy on the assumption of generational replacement was a mistake, as the rapid population growth phase is transitional, not final. Poland needs an effective pro-family policy, as the 500+ program unequivocally failed in this regard. Czech solutions, such as facilitating the return of women to the labor market, focusing social assistance on parents of children up to 3 years old, and in vitro programs, among others, may not necessarily work in Poland. Unfortunately, the coalition program of the upcoming government lacks a specific plan in this regard, leaving a question mark in this matter. One thing is certain, though: we will not succeed in building a Poland consisting of 50 million native Poles. Furthermore, it is essential to realize that we have no control over the outcome of the ongoing economic conflict between the USA and China, which may impact Poland. In this regard, we can only hope for luck and the favor of our partners.
Great Challenges at the Dawn of a New Era.
Therefore, whether we envision Poland as a global winner in the American-Chinese decoupling or simply cheer for Poland’s economic development, we need immigrants to build the Polish economy through them. Ultimately, this could lead to increased wages and advancement in the global value chain. However, as a country, we need to reconcile demographic challenges, economic ambitions, and societal acceptance. Demographically, Poland is faring poorly. Regarding economic development plans, they change rapidly with each change in power and are sometimes motivated solely by the desire to deny opponents potential credit. As for societal acceptance, the matter is the most complicated. On one hand, it seems that metropolitan society in the largest Polish cities is very tolerant towards immigrants, as confirmed by qualitative research. On the other hand, anti-immigration policies can translate into electoral success, not only concerning economic migrants but even in the context of refugees, as demonstrated by the Confederation.
Therefore, we face significant economic challenges and uncertain international waters. We stand not only at the beginning of a new global order but also in Polish politics, where serious demands for reforming immigration policies from outside the EU have surfaced for the first time in recent electoral campaigns. The question of whether any of these demands will be implemented and be compatible with the economic future that the world has in store for us, like many other issues discussed in the article, remains open.
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