Polish migrants are “dynamic and resourceful” and have added 1 percent to the UK’s GDP since 2005
Dr Greg Thomson chaired an impressive line-up of speakers, which included Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, Department for Work and Pensions advisor, Eamonn Davern, and Polish migrant turned UNISON learning and development manager, Ewelina Nowak.
Polish migrants have been a success story in the UK, bringing a whole host of skills and integrity to the UK’s labour workforce. It was also argued that the UK’s Polish migrant community was “unique” in not only being young, mobile and with few dependents but also usually over-qualified for the jobs they do. It was also highlighted that Polish migrants were more likely to settle in other parts of the UK instead of London and generally found it easier to integrate with other communities. London has 40 percent of the UK’s migrant population.
The Coalition Government is committed to reducing the dependency of the labour market on migrant labour and is mainly looking at tackling non-EU migrant labour rather than the EU’s accessible workforce, according to Eamonn Davern. He added that it was often the case that Polish migrant workers tended to be young and quite often over-qualified for their jobs.
There is little evidence which suggests that there has been a negative effect on wage pressure and displacement to local labour given the fact that 2.2 million migrants have been employed in the UK since 1997. The UK currently has over 150 different occupations on the Shortage Occupation List and the government recognises the important role immigration plays in addressing this shortage as well as the importance of Eastern and Central European workers playing a vital role in sustaining Britain’s economic growth. Migration policies should therefore be responsive to the economy, especially when opening our borders adds between 0.5 to 1 percent to the GDP.
Jeremy Corbyn talked briefly about his “very substantial Polish community” in his constituency adding that their arrival to Islington North prompted more shops and businesses to emerge in the area, making a “great contribution” to Islington’s local economy and population. He added that he is usually “deeply offended” by sensational tabloid newspapers reporting on Polish migration and that they should understand that this is a global society – people need to move.
His constituency has over 100 languages spoken with a high level of tolerance demonstrated by his highly diverse constituents. He added that Polish migrants generally tend to be a younger and more dynamic community who not only help create jobs but are essential to the UK’s economic prosperity. “We’d be a poor declining country without migration in the last 60 years”, he exclaimed. He also noted that his colleagues in Parliament often complained that local labour could simply not compete with the quality of Polish craftsmanship. However, this should not be a reason to stop migration but to deeply reflect on our system of quality skills.
Ewelina Nowak came to the UK from Poland for a better life and opportunities. As a young girl who finished high school and wanted to be a psychologist, she found it incredibly difficult to follow her dream because “to get a place at university in Poland is like winning the lottery”. She decided to come to the UK for 3 months to gain experience and improve on her English, she’s now been here for 6 years, gained employment and in the process received a diploma in Psychology. She now works for Unison helping educate and develop others with learning needs. Most of the workers she supports are non-migrants.
The overall message from the meeting was positive which highlighted the benefits of Polish migration to the UK. The economy grew and society benefitted was the mantra and we should respect the benefits while harnessing the opportunities Polish migrants bring to the UK.
However, with last week’s immigration figures suggesting that the UK’s annual net migration was the highest calendar year figure on record, ministers will find it increasingly difficult to formulate an effective argument that links growth in the economy with the need for migration. The APPG on Migration will be looking into the challenges facing the UK economy in 2012 and what balanced measures should be taken on immigration policy which will aid recovery and ensure flexible labour mobility and sustainable growth in the economy.