Post-Accession Polish Migrants in Britain and Ireland: Challenges and Obstacles to Integration in the European Union

In: European Journal of Migration and Law
Michael Johns Department of Political Science, Laurentian University Sudbury, ON Canada P3E 2C6

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The European Union’s 2004 expansion was accompanied by worries in several western states about potential large-scale immigration by workers from new member states. In France, for example, the ‘Polish plumber’ featured as a symbol of cheap labour in the 2005 constitutional referendum. The accession treaty allowed existing member states to restrict the entry of workers from new member states for up to seven years; only the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden allowed immediate unrestricted entry of workers from new member states. Many workers, particularly Poles, did move, and a cursory examination of this migration could lead one to judge it a success. Ireland and Britain benefited from an influx of workers during a boom economic period and the Poles earned wages beyond what they would have earned at home. A closer examination illustrates the difficulties and discrimination faced by the Polish community in Ireland and Britain. This article documents how the skills of Polish migrants have been under-valued and how it was assumed that when the economy soured, they would leave. As many have stayed, they face further discrimination. The paper relies on both primary interviews and secondary sources to examine the treatment and future of Europe’s largest recent internal migration.

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