A Brief History of Migration and Remittances in Poland

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Poland has a population of around 38.3 million people, positioning it as the 8th most populated country in Europe. Its climate is largely temperate and seasonal, with relatively warm summers and cold winters. Although Poland is widely known as a net migration country, its favorable economic conditions are pulling in an increasing number of migrant workers.

As part of our Brief Histories series, here we delve into a bit of Poland’s history, its current migration flows, and their impact on remittances to and from the country. Let’s get to it!

A (very) brief history of Poland

Poland’s history goes all the way back to the to the times of the Sarmatians, Scythians, Celts, and Slavs, some of the many different tribes and cultures that inhabited the country. One of the main tribes, the Western Polans, lived in the area known as Greater Poland, and gave the country its name. These tribes coexisted until the creation of the first Polonian state under the Piast dynasty, where the ruler known as Mieszko I converted to Christianity. From there, the Kingdom of Poland was shaped.

In the 16th century, Poland united with Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and witnessed a period of great economic and social prosperity. At the end of the 18th century, however, the state was partitioned.

Although Poland experienced many challenges starting with the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 until the end of the Cold War, today it has one of the highest GDPs in the European Union. Its strong economic development and high standard of living have begun attracting many migrants seeking work opportunities. Poland, a country famous for its diasporas in countries like the US and Germany, is now home to many diasporas.

Poland’s migration flows

While Poland is becoming the destination of choice for many workers from other countries, many Polish migrants have also moved to other countries within the European Union since 2004,many Polish migrants have moved to other countries within the European Union, particularly to France, Germany, and the UK, according to the World Bank. These are among the sixteen EU countries that signed bilateral agreements with Poland on seasonal employment. An estimated 4.3 million Poles have been recorded as living abroad.

Poland is increasingly becoming the chosen destination for many immigrants in search of job opportunities.

Owing to strong emotional ties between Polish migrants and their families back home, a significant proportion of them choose not to settle in their host country permanently. Many prefer instead to emigrate for up to six months for seasonal work, returning back to Poland for the remainder of the year.

Although Poland is typically known in the west as a predominantly migrant country, the tide is turning. Poland is increasingly becoming the chosen destination for many immigrants in search of job opportunities.

In 2017, Poland issued more visas to foreign workers than any other country in Europe. During that year alone, more than 680,000 foreigners were granted legal residency in Poland, a significant proportion of them from Ukraine. An estimated one to two million Ukrainian citizens currently work in Poland, many of which live there temporarily to meet seasonal employment needs.

The geographical proximity between the two countries, coupled with low travel costs, give Ukrainians more freedom to emigrate for short term periods. From the Polish city of Lublin, for example, a bus service runs 17 departures per day to Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, affording Ukrainians more flexibility to return home to their families for large portions of the year.

Poland also counts with a fair share of immigration from countries like Germany (81,779), Belarus (81,363), and Lithuania (54,057). It is also becoming increasingly common in Poland to see immigrants from South Asian countries, particularly Indians and Nepalese.

Poland’s Remittances: Volumes and Impact

Polish immigration to other European countries has brought with it an increased volume of remittances. The highest volumes are sent from Germany (US$2.1 billion) and the United Kingdom (US$1.1 billion). In 2019, an estimated US$6 billion were sent in remittances to Poland, and, for 2020, this estimation is currently at US$ 5.5. Billion.

In correlation with the more recent migration flows to Poland, Ukraine is now the biggest recipient of remittances compared to all other European countries, according to figures from the World Bank. This is reflected in money transfers totalling around US$ 14.4 billion made in 2018 from Ukrainians in Poland.

Poland is no longer associated solely with high migration flows. Rather, it has become a country of choice for many migrants looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. The lower travel costs and cultural proximity between Poland and its neighboring countries offers migrants greater ease to move back and forth for seasonal work. This trend has led to a growth in money transfers, providing a higher standard of living for recipient-families. Ultimately, the relationship shows to be a positive one, with economic benefits for both sending and receiving countries.

Do you live in Poland and need to send money home? Check out the myRia app! Pay with cash or card and send to over 160 countries worldwide.

This is an installment of our “Brief Histories” Series. Continue discovering: Dominican Republic, Senegal, Malaysia, Philippines, Colombia, Morocco and Ukraine.

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