”Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote. Such psychological chains influence a certain section of Polish society who display an inhospitable attitude towards immigrants
By Sergiusz Prokurat
According to the National Census of Population and Housing, in 2011, only 383,200 people born in Poland had parents that were both born abroad. More than 98 percent of Polish citizens are Poles, that is unique in today’s ethnically diverse Europe. Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians and the Vietnamese are among the largest groups of residence permit holders in Poland. Data from the authorities, however, points to a certain trend. For example, in the first half of 2015, Polish institutions received 30,906 work permit applications submitted by foreigners. That is about 28 percent more than in the same period of 2014. More than 27,000 of those applications were approved. “We are trailing behind the rest of Europe in terms of the population of immigrants. No one should have any illusions – most of these people do not want to live in Poland, which is not considered a very wealthy country and whose “social offer” is not as attractive as other western countries” said Anna Antczak-Barzan, a university lecturer and expert in the field of national security.
Despite the fact that Poland is an almost totally ethnically homogeneous country, where it is unusual to meet a person of another skin color outside a big city, the migration process has recently grown in strength in both the European Union and in Poland which has stirred a lot of emotions. Antczak-Barzan pointed out its multidimensionality: “The dilemma for the adoption of growing numbers of people from distant countries, not only geographically, but above all, culturally, is not only a political, economic, social or cultural problem and it boils down to the question of whether we can afford it, taking into account the shortage of funds for health care and social benefits for the poor.” As the Western media have noted, the general attitude in Poland is the following: “Instead of helping Africans we must first take care of our own people.”
The positive effects of immigration can be seen everywhere. From the cuisine – including the ubiquitous kebabs or popular Vietnamese bars serving plates full of fried rice – to language skills and increased opportunities to find employees or experts from other countries. Even a small increase in immigration can result in huge benefits. If Poland took in enough immigrants so that the level of employment increased by one percent, this added value would be worth more than the cost of maintaining the entire higher education system. As long as Poland maintains its status as one of the countries with the lowest fertility rates in the world, and Europe continues to boost its fertility through the massive influx of people from Arab and African countries, the following question arises: can Poland afford not to take in immigrants?
However, the thing is that Poles do not want immigrants. According to research by Work Service, almost half of Polish workers are adverse to the concept of immigration. The main reason for this aversion concerns employment, 38 percent of Poles are wary of foreigners primarily due to the possibility of greater
competition on the labor market. However, contrary to common perception, new immigrants do not steal jobs from citizens of the country to which they come. If immigrants steal jobs, one could say the same about every graduate leaving school and entering the job market. In fact, it is the opposite – the economy expands and the total number of jobs increases, because the economy is a living organism. Today’s employee is tomorrow’s potential entrepreneur. An example can be seen in Maksymilian Faktorowicz, who after arriving in the US in the early twentieth century, founded Max Factor, a company which exists to this day. The influx of new immigrants is like additional water from the melting snow in spring, it helps the water mill to spin faster so that more energy is produced. More taxes levied on extra staff means that more money can be spent on education, roads and infrastructure, which leads to an increase in the productivity of the community as a whole.
Interestingly, according to Work Service research, employers in Poland are open to foreigners. No wonder, for small businesses such employees present the opportunity to survive on a competitive market. Immigrants provide fundamentally different skills that are complementary to the skills of local people, which is confirmed by the research of Giovanni Peri from the University of California. Newcomers from other countries, usually representing countries of lower standards of living, are willing to take jobs that local people do not want to do.
There is significant potential in immigration, assuming that immigrants want to work and are not only interested in benefiting from social programs.
Poles are familiar with this issue from their own personal experience. Over the years, many Poles have been refugees and immigrants seeking opportunities in countries whose governments did not enslave people and allowed the possibility to do business comfortably. Then, after the accession to the European Union, a lot of Poles left their country for a better life. More than 700,000 to Great Britain, over 500,000 to Germany and in excess of 250,000 to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. 10 million people living in the US have Polish roots.
In difficult times Poles were able to count on the hospitality of many countries of the world. Over the years they have been the beneficiaries of the wider possibilities of leaving their native country. On the one hand, for the average Pole it is obvious that governments that prevent the departure of their own citizens are sinister regimes, and those who do not want to allow Poles to enter without visas, such as the US, are ”overly restrictive”. On the other hand, Poles who have emigrated rarely deny that right to others, being aware that the entitlement to move freely is a basic human right.
There is significant potential in immigration, assuming that immigrants want to work and are not only interested in benefiting from social programs. This potential makes the European Union willing to accept immigrants. The Polish government, however, is more reserved and society is divided. At the end of November, several Polish cities witnessed demonstrations against the acceptance of immigrants into
Poland. Manifestations organized by national groups were a reaction to the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris. Nationalist organizations perceive immigration as a struggle for national identity and provoke the following slogans: Opponents of immigration base their attitudes on arguments derived from nationalism, misunderstanding the differences between cultures and harboring an instinctive aversion to “foreign” and “other”.
A student of management at one of Warsaw’s universities Abdul Mohammed said that in spite of that fact, Poles are mostly hospitable and friendly: “I like Poland. Especially young people, who speak foreign languages very well and are eager to help. They have visited many places and people of a different skin color are nothing new for them.” His words were confirmed by Tom Gresk, an English and business lecturer from the US who came to Poland in 1991: “Much has changed in the last 25 years as when I came there were virtually no foreigners in Poland. Although everybody has always been nice and helpful, Poles still tend to classify people depending on the region that they come from.” He gives an example of his Indian students who always have their passports with them in case of emergency situations. When they are taken for Muslim radicals on the street, they show their documents confirming that in fact, they come from India.
Time has shown that Poles can be valuable assets for the German economy. The same could be said about immigrants in Poland. Having said that, newcomers are not helped by the fact that they often come from countries where authorities hinder the development of entrepreneurship and contribute to the promotion of religious and social intolerance or discrimination based on gender or opinions. Involuntarily, they bring with them part of this reality, which can manifest itself in various ways. The role of the governments of host countries is to shape the incentives and institutions so that newcomers are attracted by work opportunities and are not tempted to cultivate some bad habits they inherited from their homeland. “The issue of migration is something the government will, sooner or later, have to face, and with it, the society of our country as a whole,” said Antczak-Barzan.