The labour market performance of return migrants

The re-integration of return migrants into the labour market is a crucial issue in the debate about the impact of return migration. The labour market performance of return migrants shapes the very assessment of migration and plays a significant role in the migration-development nexus (de Haas, 2010). Secondly, successful re-integration into the labour market is the main target of most migration policies targeting returnees. The most reliable information on the labour market performance of Polish return migrants can be drawn from the LFS module described above. Generally speaking, according to the 2008 LFS migrant module, the labour market position of Polish returnees was not significantly different from that of non-migrants. Around 69% of return migrants were employed as compared to 63% of non-migrants. At the same time, however, the unemployment rate of returnees was higher by about 2 percentage points (CSO, 2008; Fialkowska and Szczepanski, 2012).

An in-depth, rigorous analysis based on the same data was performed by Anacka and Fihel (2012b).2 The general picture that emerged is consistent with the results cited above. Return migrants were more exposed than non-migrants to the risk of unemployment. At the same time, their participation rates were higher than those of nonmigrants. In order to control for additional variables which could be responsible for a particular labour market position, a set of multinomial logit models was estimated (in which a distinction between short-term and long-term migration was considered). Results can be summarised as follows (Anacka and Fihel, 2012b):

  • • The risk of unemployment was much higher for short-term migrants (2.5 times higher) than for non-migrants.
  • • A similar pattern was observed among long-term migrants: for those aged 18-35 years, the risk of unemployment was 3-5 times higher than for nonmigrants.
  • • The highest risk of unemployment was observed among those with secondary education (particularly the long-term migrants among them).
  • • Generally, migration experience was associated with higher participation rates in the labour market.
  • • This was not true, however, for young persons with a background of short-term migration for whom the risk of labour market inactivity was around twice as high as in reference categories.
  • • Experience of migration thus seems to affect labour market performance in a negative way, particularly in the case of young people and those who spent a short period of time abroad (3-12 months). This effect is partially attributable to the profile of Polish post-accession migrants, many of whom left Poland after completing their education without ever entering the Polish labour market. In such cases - especially if combined with depreciation of skills abroad - reintegration in Poland upon return can be extremely difficult. A commonly discussed issue in the context of return migration is the question of skill transfer. Three factors are liable to compromise the ability of Polish return migrants to transfer to their country of origin, skills acquired in their country of destination:
  • - The majority of Polish migrants abroad are employed in jobs that are not in line with their education (so that skill transfer between Poland and destination countries also rarely occurs). According to CSO data, this was true of approximately 66% of Polish return migrants (CSO, 2008).
  • - Most Poles working abroad are considerably overqualified. For example, while close to 30% of Polish migrants in the United Kingdom have tertiary education, the vast majority of them (around 80%-90% ) are employed in jobs that require far lower qualifications (mostly in secondary sectors of the dual labour market offering manual jobs) (Kaczmarczyk, 2011).
  • - Mostly due to the above reasons, for Polish migrants abroad, the rate of return to human capital investment is low (or even extremely low) (Kaczmarczyk and Tyrowicz, 2012). This may explain not only specific strategies applied by migrants but also their decisions regarding return or further migration to a different country.

Skill transfer is thus unlikely in Poland. The following points are worth considering however:

  • • There is evidence to suggest, that return migrants are more likely than non-migrants to hold stable employment contracts (SSC, 2010; SSC, 2011a; SSC, 2011b).
  • • Labour market reintegration in Poland tends to be easier for well-educated migrants; the position of persons with primary and secondary education is generally much more difficult (for these groups, self-employment serves as an escape from unemployment) (SSC, 2010; SSC, 2011a; SSC, 2011b).
  • • Return migrants tend to be self-employed. Regional studies indicate that the share of the self-employed (5%-12%, depending on the region) is significantly higher among return migrants than among non-migrants (SSC, 2010; SSC, 2011a; SSC, 2011b). While there is no clear evidence that self-employment is a dominant reintegration strategy (Fialkowska and Szczepanski, 2012) however, it seems particularly frequent among migrants who completed tertiary education in Poland but were employed in the secondary sectors abroad and faced problems with finding a job upon return.

On the basis of available data, it would be difficult to conclude that a migration/mobility experience is an advantage on the Polish labour market. Brain waste/deskilling abroad appear to be major problems. In addition, expectations regarding employment upon return were often frustrated, particularly in the time of economic downturn, becoming a major issue for return migrants.

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