At the end of 2019, there were over two million foreigners living in Poland, making up around 5% of the country’s population, according to preliminary findings from a study by Statistics Poland (GUS), a government agency.
Poland has in recent years experienced levels of immigration unprecedented in the country’s history and among the highest in the European Union. In 2017 and 2018, the last two years for which EU-wide data are available, Poland issued more first residence permits to immigrants from outside the bloc than any other member state.
Data from Poland’s labour ministry showed that in 2019 there was a further 35% increase in the number of work permits issued to immigrants from outside the EU. However, precise figures for the overall number of immigrants in the country have been hard to come by.
The new study, the first of its kind published by GUS, combined data from nine different state sources relating to employment, healthcare and education, as well as from the government’s Office for Foreigners and PESEL (state identity database) records, reports Business Insider Polska.
As a result, it estimates that on 31 December 2019, there were 2,106,101 foreigners living in Poland. The majority, 1.35 million, were from neighbouring Ukraine. The rest of the top 10 was made up by people from:
- Belarus: 105,404
- Germany: 77,073
- Moldova: 37,338
- Russia: 37,030
- India: 33,107
- Georgia: 27,917
- Vietnam: 27,386
- Turkey: 25,049
- China: 23,838
That left 360,541 foreign inhabitants from other countries.
GUS emphasises that its data are still “experimental and not final”. It also acknowledges that there is a margin of error, given that some foreigners registered in government databases may no longer be in Poland, while some foreigners in the country are not registered.
Last November, Poland’s central bank estimated that there were over one million immigrants working in Poland at that time. That figure did not, however, include those not working, such as children, retirees and many students.
In its new study, GUS also notes that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an outflow of migrants, reports Business Insider. GUS estimates that from 1 March to 30 April, the number of foreigners dropped by around 200,000.
During that period, large numbers of Ukrainians rushed to return home. As a result, many employers – particularly in agriculture – have warned a lack of migrant workers will harm the Polish economy and could raise food prices.
In response, the government resumed issuing visas to Ukrainians and allowed foreign agricultural workers to begin work during the mandatory two-week quarantine period upon arrival.
Last week, a Polish recruitment agency chartered a plane to fly in almost 200 workers from Ukraine, and it is planning another flight this weekend. The Rzeczpospolita daily reported this week that significant numbers of Ukrainians are now returning to Poland, though on a smaller scale than in recent years.
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.