Migration is one of several key challenges facing Poland in the coming decades. If we want to be a strong country, we must be a large country. This assertion translates into expectations regarding the size of the Polish economy, fiscal strength, and population. Additionally, all these factors contribute to the potential of military strength. A large, modern military will be a prerequisite for the secure development of Poland. Given the bleak demographic forecasts for virtually all developed countries, migration policy takes on strategic significance. The competition for people will have a strategic dimension.
Over the past 78 years, since the end of World War II, Poland has “exported” far more people than it has “imported.” After the political transformation in 1989 and the opening to the West, Poles continued to emigrate in the 1990s, even before joining the European Union. Apart from permanent emigration, temporary emigration during that period, such as seasonal contract workers, is estimated to have involved around 1 million people abroad. The 1990s and the 2000s were a period of high, at times very high, unemployment and significant structural adjustments in the Polish economy. Emigration during this period had a strictly economic character.
After 2004, there was a massive exodus of both unskilled and skilled workers to Western European countries: Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and others. According to the Central Statistical Office (GUS) data, Poland experienced positive migration balance only in 2016, for the first time since 1945, and this situation continues to the present day. Another significant date in this timeline is 2014, when the large wave of migration from Ukraine to Poland began following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.
Despite the Covid pandemic and the subsequent stages of the war in Ukraine, shifts in the international structure of production and trade have allowed Poland to maintain a very high growth rate since 2019. Naturally, this creates further demand for labor.
Poland has been recording record employment and labor force participation rates for several years. Continued economic growth, as indicated by official analyses and signals from Polish businesses, will require an increase in the labor supply. This means that, in all likelihood, Poland will become a country with a positive migration balance for many years to come.
In addition to the growing economy, there are other competitiveness factors that will require serious consideration of migration policy. This challenge is new for Poland, and so far, the country has been navigating in this area in a spontaneous and ad hoc manner. Surprisingly, this approach has been working well so far. However, it cannot be assumed that Poland will continue to operate on autopilot.
There are four premises for which Poland will be a very attractive migration destination for people from Europe and the rest of the world in the next 20-30 years:
Growing economy based on manufacturing, service centers, and new technologies.
Low crime rate, including a low immigrant crime rate. Poland is currently the safest large country in Europe, as indicated by statistics on common crimes and serious criminal offenses.
Minimal cultural dispute impact on the dynamics of political and social processes compared to the United States and Western Europe.
Climate changes, leading to milder weather in Poland and warmer conditions in southern Europe.
The goal of Poland’s migration strategy should be to provide the workforce according to the needs of the economy and limit social risks associated with migration. The long-term quantitative goal should be to increase Poland’s population to 50 million inhabitants by 2050. While this is a symbolic value, it illustrates a very ambitious approach to Poland’s future development. This concept has been advocated and promoted by Prof. Marcin Piątkowski from the Leon Koźmiński Academy for many years.
The intellectual and institutional stages necessary to create a migration strategy and policy should include:
Establishing a Ministry of Migration and Integration. Initially, it could be a lower-ranking unit, for example, within the Prime Minister’s Office or an existing ministry, which would eventually be transformed into a ministry.
Formulating axiological and cultural assumptions that we would like to be considered in the implementation of migration policy.
Preparing a comprehensive study on migration policies and experiences of selected European and global countries, learning from the mistakes of the West.
Indicating the economic goals we want to achieve through the implementation of the migration strategy and describing these goals with relevant indicators.
Preparing assumptions for the institutionalization of migration policy and assimilation policy.
Potential migration sources to Poland over the next 30 years could look as follows:
Poles living abroad and descendants of Poles who emigrated. This group is estimated at around 20 million people. Some of them are individuals who migrated to Western European countries after 2004 and are gradually returning to Poland. They currently reside mainly in countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Norway.
Migration from European countries, including Western, Northern, and Southern Europe. As Poland gains a higher position in the international division of labor, it should have the capacity to attract EU residents who want to settle in Poland for professional reasons.
Migration from non-European countries, especially from Southeast Asia, South America, and others.
Migration based on offers for students and even high school students from non-European countries who could receive education in Poland and potentially stay in the country to plan their careers.
Given the several decades of experience of developed countries, preparation for the creation of a migration strategy should begin with describing the experiences and problems of selected European and global countries. Many European countries, which were migration destinations since the post-war period, have experienced phenomena that now negatively impact social peace, order, and citizen satisfaction. This approach means understanding and analyzing migration policies in such European countries as Sweden, France, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and non-European countries like Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The problems of weak assimilation, high crime, and the emergence of non-integrating population clusters have causes and consequences. When developing a migration strategy, Poland should understand these problems: their causes and consequences. Although countries like Sweden and Denmark have institutionalized and efficiently implemented immigration and assimilation policies, they have recently experienced significant problems that governments are only now trying to address through decisive interventions by state services. In the socio-economic dimension, it is important for Poland to follow the path it has taken so far, in line with which the social benefits system that immigrants can use is insufficient to sustain themselves solely on state aid. In practice, this should mean that only people with work visas come to Poland, and upon arrival, they immediately take up work, or individuals capable of independently finding and securing employment to support themselves and their families. The problem of excessively extensive and widely available social programs for new immigrants is often cited as one of the reasons for the low labor force participation of some social groups migrating to wealthy European countries.
In the public domain, there are often suggestions to introduce a points-based migration system in Poland, similar to the practices used in Anglo-Saxon countries. The aim of such systems is to grant residence rights and work permits only to individuals representing the highest value for the economy and society, and those representing the lowest risks. In New Zealand, before qualifying for assessment in the points-based system, a potential immigrant must meet the following criteria: age below 55, excellent health, very good knowledge of the English language, and no legal issues. Individuals meeting these criteria undergo further assessment based on a points system that considers professional qualifications, education, salary level in the job offer they are applying for, and previous work experience in New Zealand. In the case of the points-based migration system in Australia, the assessment of applications is based on the sum of points awarded for age (younger candidates score better), proficiency in the English language, education, and professional qualifications. Additional points can be obtained for candidates’ previous connections to Australia, such as work experience in Australia or being in a relationship with a person living and working in Australia. Similar systems are found in Canada. These are systems based on the approach that migration should serve the needs of the labor market, essentially the growing economy. The hierarchy of values and resulting regulations are focused on the close integration of economic needs and population inflow. Thus far, Poland’s policy of granting work visas has been based on criteria that likely existed but were not communicated to the public. There are no laws or internal administrative documents publicly known on this matter. Consequently, in the near future, a new scheme and criteria for granting work visas to citizens of non-European Union countries will have to be developed.
The topic not widely addressed in public debate so far is the issue of assimilation policy, which encompasses all state activities aimed at monitoring and facilitating the assimilation of migrants. In this area, essential issues include mandatory school attendance for children, learning the Polish language, and the level of immigrants’ sustained professional activity. The introduction of tools to monitor the state of assimilation, facilitate assimilation, and provide intervention tools should be the next task for the ministry, whose establishment I advocate in this text. The institutions and tools that would enable this should become part of the integrated institutionalization of Poland’s migration policy. The information obtained in this way should create a kind of early warning system, indicating potential disturbing phenomena. Examples from Western European countries suggest that to avoid the accumulation of errors that could be destructive for society in the long run, we must monitor and analyze migration phenomena. No country has yet created the perfect, flawless sectoral policy on the first attempt in any area. Sectoral policies are a learning process from mistakes, corrections, and iterations resulting from the regular intellectual and institutional efforts of teams of people.
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