New data from Eurostat reveal that in 2018, for the second year running, Poland issued more first residence permits to immigrants from outside the European Union than did any other member state. The figures reflect a recent wave of mass immigration to Poland that is unprecedented in the country’s history and among the largest experienced by any country in Europe (as we have previously discussed here).

In 2018, Poland issued 635,335 first residence permits, putting it ahead of Germany (543,571) in second and the United Kingdom (450,775) in third. The figures are similar to those from 2017, when Poland again issued the most permits. In 2016 and 2015, Poland’s numbers were also well above 500,000, and in both years it was behind only the UK.

One big change in the 2018 has been a decline in the proportion of permits going to Ukrainians, who have made up the vast majority of immigrants coming to Poland. Last year, 65% of permits went to citizens of Ukraine, down from 86% and 88% in the preceding two years.

This could indicate that the large existing Ukrainian population in Poland is becoming more settled, with fewer new arrivals. It could also reflect the fact that Poland is facing greater competition for Ukrainian workers from other countries, such as Hungary, Slovakia and Germany. Or it may simply show that, as Poland’s central bank has warned, the pool of potential migrants from Ukraine is drying up.

The reduction in the number of Ukrainians has been compensated by growing arrivals from another eastern neighbour, Belarus, whose citizens accounted for 20% of permits last year, up from 6% of in 2017.

However, there was also a growth in arrivals from further afield, with the proportion of permits going to Turkish and Indian citizens more than doubling. Immigrants from beyond Europe, especially Turkey and South Asia, have become an increasingly visible sight in large Polish cities, although the overall numbers are still small.

Poland’s recent levels of immigration in recent years has provided a significant economic boost, helping to offset demographic decline and mass emigration of Poles, which would otherwise have left employees struggling to hire amid a rapidly expanding economy and record low unemployment. Recent analysis by PKO Bank Polski, Poland’s largest bank, highlighted how the 600,000 immigrants paying into the pension system have helped bolster the public finances.

Yet immigration remains a little-discussed topic in Polish politics and media. It barely featured in the recent parliamentary election campaign. In particular, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been reluctant to draw attention to the unprecedented levels of immigration that it has overseen in government, which contradict its image as an anti-immigration party.

When an interior ministry document admitting that Poland needs more immigrant workers was leaked earlier this year, it led to the firing of two senior officials. In 2018, a deputy minister was dismissed after saying that “Poland must [open up to migration] and even if it doesn’t want to”.

Main credit: Polish Border Flickr/ viandistoo (under CC BY 2.0)

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