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Translocations: Migration and Social Change
An Inter-Disciplinary Open Access E-Journal
ISSN Number: 2009-0420
Kathy Burrell (ed.) (2009) Polish Migration to the UK in the ‘New’ European Union
After 2004, Ashgate, 260 pages
Since EU enlargement in May 2004, the United Kingdom has become one of the most
popular destinations for migrants from Poland. What has been the impact of this
large-scale immigration?
This edited volume by Kathy Burrell offers a good overview of many issues related to
this recent migration stream. What needs to be acknowledged is the fact that
emigration from Poland didn’t start in 2004 and that migration channels and patterns
in this country had been shaped over decades. Even during the communist period,
when the Polish border was relatively closed, people were still leaving the country to
move somewhere else in the world. Opening the borders in 1989 led to a large scale
mobility of Polish citizens, although the settlement in destination countries became
less permanent and new forms of temporary and circular migration occurred.
The book brings together various disciplines, including sociology, economics, history,
linguistics and cultural studies. The chapters are based on case studies, thus providing
an in-depth analysis of migration patterns, decision making processes, and issues
related to settlement and integration. The volume is divided into two parts: the first
one, ‘Context, Strategies and Discourses of Emigration’ focuses mainly on Poland
and the issues related to migration patterns and migration decision making processes.
The second part, 'Experiences of Immigration and 'Settlement'' explores the situation
of Polish migrants in the UK, usage of social networks, integration, transnationalism
and gender and ethnic identities.
In the first chapter, Agnieszka Fihel and Paweł Kaczmarczyk examine the impact of
the current emigration wave on the Polish labour market. Firstly, by using secondary
statistical data, they argue that it is not only out-migration that caused lower
unemployment rates in Poland but also an improved economic climate and job
creation played key roles in this process. What is also taking place is the ‘crowdingout’ effect and, from the perspective of the British labour market, a process of ‘brain
waste’ as the educational qualifications of Polish migrants are not properly utilised.
This chapter is the only one based solely on the secondary statistical data.
In the following chapters, Tim Elrick and Emilia Brinkmeier, as well as Anne White
offer analyses of changing migration patterns in rural regions and small towns in
Poland. The first of the two chapters presents findings from a comparative study
conducted in two Polish administrative regions. It shows that different attitudes
towards migration can influence a change in mobility channels. Moreover, the region
with a longer migration history is more likely to lead to a situation where individuals
are more flexible in terms of adaptability to new opportunities that arose after the
2004 EU Enlargement. White's chapter focuses on the livelihood strategies of families
in small towns in Poland. Through qualitative interviews, she analyses economic and
non-economic reasons for family migration and explores a shift from the 1990s norm
of sending abroad only one member of the household to new migration phenomena of
family reunification in the UK. The chapter by Galasińska and Kozłowska presents an
analysis of a ‘normal life’ discourse that can be observed in the interviews and in
online forums. As quite often found in migration research, migrants often operate on
the basis of a dual frame of reference, comparing work life, working conditions and
earnings in Poland and in the UK. It this case the former is often referred to as
difficult and the latter as more decent and 'normal'.
The final chapter of the first part of the book offers an historical analysis of the image
of Polish emigrants in post-war fictional films. As noted by the author, the issue of
migration was rarely a theme in Polish cinema until the late 1970s and most of the
movies about this issue were produced after the system collapsed in 1989. What is
interesting is that films from the post-communist period are not as numerous as one
might have expected. What is also intriguing is the fact that most of the movies
present migration in quite dark colours with people leaving the country in search of a
better future and eventual disappointment abroad.
In the second part of the book most contributions focus on the situation of Polish
migrants in the UK. Ryan, Sales and Tilki's chapter discusses findings from a
qualitative study on migrants' social networks. They found that those Polish migrants
with good English language skills extended their networks in the destination country
after arrival. On the other hand what can be observed in the case of migrant language
skills is the network closure.
In relation to integration in the host country, the chapter on Polish migrants in
Northern Ireland by Maruška Svašek analyses the outcome of the Shared History
Project, which aimed to improve the relations between different ethnic groups in this
Gender and ethnic identities are the main themes in chapters by Bernadetta Siara and
by Ayona Datta. Siara’s analysis focuses on the negotiation of ethnic and gender
identities on Polish online discussion boards in the UK. Datta’s chapter explores these
issues through visual narratives of Polish construction workers in Britain. In both
cases gender identities are strongly linked to different gender roles constructed in
Poland. Finally, Rabikowska and Burrell’s chapter explores the role of consumption
in the lives of recent Polish migrants in the UK, focusing mostly on food and grocery
shops in London and the Midlands.
The volume covers a variety of issues related to recent migration from Poland to the
UK. Different migrants’ experiences are discussed in this book and different academic
perspectives and methodologies have been deployed. The case study focus allows the
authors to move beyond the numbers and statistics and to explore this migration
process in a more in-depth way. One theme that seems to be missing is a study on
Polish professionals in the UK as not all of the migrants are employed below their
qualifications. What is clearly shown by this book is the necessity for further research
on Polish post-accession migrants.
Alicja Bobek
Department of Sociology
Trinity College Dublin