Return migration to Poland - scale and structural features

How to assess the scale of return migration to Poland? Traditionally, temporary mobility constituted a significant portion of Polish migration, both before and during the post-enlargement period. How we define (and understand) the return movement thus becomes a critical question. Contrary to the classic case of settled migrants returning to their country of origin, for many Polish migrants “return” can often mean only a short break between periods spent abroad. We shall thus refer to both “typical” return migrants and persons with migratory experience (mostly temporary migrants currently residing in Poland but who may emigrate again in the future). The term liquid or fluid migration is increasingly used (Engbersen et al., 2012; Grabowska and Okolski, 2010) to refer to this phenomenon involving Polish as well as other Central and Eastern European (CEE) migrants. It points to very flexible migration plans or strategies which, to some extent, are the consequence of the free movement regime introduced in 2004. In statistical terms, recent migrants are extremely difficult to follow. Administrative data sources capture only a portion of the phenomenon, while stock data are usually more reliable. At any rate, most estimates point to the massive scale of the phenomenon.

According to stock estimates, the number of Polish nationals staying temporarily abroad peaked in 2007, reaching 2 27 million persons (Fihel, 2011; Kaczmarczyk, 2011) - see also Figure 5.1 and Table 5.1.

Figure 5.1. Stock of Polish migrants staying temporarily abroad, 2002-11

Note: “Temporarily abroad” is defined as “permanent residents who have stayed in a foreign country for longer than three months”.

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the Central Statistical Office (CSO).

Table 5.1. Stock of Polish migrants residing temporarily abroad, 2002-11

Main destination countries, thousands

Destination

Population census (May 2002)

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Total

786

1 000

1 450

1 950

2 270

2 210

2 100

2 000

2 060

of which : Europe

461

770

1 200

1 610

1 925

1 887

1 765

1 685

1 754

of which:

Austria

11

15

25

34

39

40

36

29

25

Belgium

14

13

21

28

31

33

34

45

47

Czech Republic

8

10

9

7

7

Denmark

17

19

20

19

21

Finland

0.3

0.4

0.7

3

4

4

3

3

2

France

21

30

44

49

55

56

60

60

62

Germany

294

385

430

450

490

490

465

440

470

Greece

10

13

17

20

20

20

16

16

15

Ireland

2

15

76

120

200

180

140

133

120

Italy

39

59

70

85

87

88

88

92

94

Netherlands

10

23

43

55

98

108

98

92

95

Norway

36

38

45

50

56

Portugal

0.3

0.5

0.6

1

1

1

1

1

1

Spain

14

26

37

44

80

83

84

48

40

Sweden

6

11

17

25

27

29

31

33

36

United Kingdom

24

150

340

580

690

650

595

580

625

Source: CSO - Central Statistical Office (2012), “Informacja o rozmiarach i kierunkach emigracji z Polski w latach 2004-2011 - notatka informacyjna” [Information on the scale and destinations of Polish emigrants, 2004-2011. Press Release], CSO, Warsaw.

In 2009, this number was as high as 2.1 million, i.e. it decreased slightly and remained more or less stable in the following years. The difference between these two stocks (around 150 000), is obviously lower than the actual number of returnees (see below) but may point to the significance of the phenomenon. As shown in Table 5.1 below, the decline in the stock of Polish migrants abroad, is mostly due to a decrease in a few countries: those that experienced the highest inflows in the post-2004 period (the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Netherlands) on the one hand; and those that were hard hit by the economic crisis on the other (most notably Spain and Ireland, with a spectacular increase in the stock of migrants between 2002 and 2007 followed by a significant drop).

Polish Labour Force Survey (LFS) data may represent a better source of information on return migration. Moreover, having introduced, in the second quarter of 2008, a special module dedicated to migrants, the Polish LFS reported 580 000 return migrants (or persons with migratory experience, as the figure includes both long-term and short-term migrants) between 2004 and the second quarter of 2008 (213 000 in 2007 alone). If we consider a longer time span, the figures are much higher. According to the 2008 LFS, around 4.2% of Poles (i.e. 1.28 million) had a migration experience (had been abroad for at least three months), most of whom (1.05 million -2.7% of the total population) returned after 1989 (CSO, 2008). In 2008, the total number of Polish emigrants and return migrants was 3.5 million, i.e. 9% of the total population of Poland (Anacka and Fihel, 2012b).

The highest number of return migrants was provided by the Public Opinion Research Centre survey, and equalled 2.9 million persons (over 9% of the adult population). These were people who had worked abroad sometime between 1997 and 2008, and were residing in Poland at the time of the survey (i.e. 2008) (Fialkowska and Szczepanski, 2012). The most valid data on return migration to Poland is expected with the publication of the final results of the 2011 national census (first quarter of 2013).To sum up, massive migration in the post-accession period led to a significant reverse flow of return migrants. This is clearly consistent with the observation expressed many years ago by Ernst Ravenstein, to the effect that return migration often accompanies migratory movements.

 
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