With hundreds of thousands overseas, can Poland expect "brain drain boomerang"?

Photo: European Commission

Britain and Ireland continue to be magnets for job seekers from Poland. Widespread stories of interesting work coupled with splendid salaries have been a temptation hard to resist for many Pole. Almost a million to be exact! But do they intend to stay?

Photo: European Commission
London is home to many Poles. In most cases those who've come to the British capital are young, with a better than average education. Their exodus has created a hard felt deficit in many sectors of the Polish labour market. A recent study, conducted by the ARC Institute, has shown some 750 thousand Poles residing in the UK and a quarter million more in Ireland. Their average age is under 35 with monthly earnings running slightly under 2 thousand euros. Not highly impressive by Western European standards, but almost four times what they would earn back home.

But it turns out money is not the only consideration as the majority of Poles are forced to take jobs far below their professional qualifications.

Magda is an architect, but her good references were not enough to guarantee an equally good job in her profession.

"I tried hard to find any job related to architecture. That's my passion, what I want to do in life. It was difficult."

Ever since the start of the mass exodus to the UK and Ireland right after Poland became an EU member in 2004, dentists have been perceived as the proverbial symbol of Polish emigration trends. Doctor Dariusz Klos was one of the pioneers who found a contract with the British NHS long before that. Now he has decided to come back to Poland.

"The main reason was the change of the system - the NHS dental treatment. The new system which began in April 2006 was absolutely ridiculous for me. I said, no, not for me! The system creates, from the beginning, a huge conflict between patients' and dentists' interests. I think, I'm an honest dentist. And as I know, also a lot of English dentists decided to leave their NHS practices because of the new contracts. It was the main reason I decided to leave the UK."

It seems that well educated Poles with good professional qualifications are becoming more critical in their choice. The ARC Institute has found 55% of the Polish immigrants in the UK and 49% in Ireland are considering returning home after at least five years away. So after years of the so-called brain drain - can Poland expect something of a brain boomerang?

Bartosz Begowski is a student of International Relations at Warsaw University. He says the vacuum created by the current brain drain will quickly be filled.

"Emigration is a brain drain. It is a brain boomerang, also. But it also is a brain exchange, because people of other nationalities will come to Poland. We are an attractive country for people from the East, for example."

Professor Jacek Kurczewski, a noted sociologist from Warsaw University, says many opportunities ignored by Poles are recognized by foreigners. And not only those from the East.

"Among my friends, their daughters usually studied abroad and stayed there. But one day, I saw one with her young partner. He is a Frenchman, but they stay here, in Warsaw. And he's very interested and busy, building up his professional career here. That's what I see as promising."

So, if West Europeans see a chance for development in Poland - should Poles themselves? Mikolaj Marchewka studies at the high ranking Warsaw School of Economics.

"I can imagine myself leaving Poland for a few years after my graduation, but at some point I would probably come back. I'm attached to this country. Although, I know many students who are fed up with the current situation, find it quite difficult to logically explain to themselves that Poland is the best choice possible."