New book investigates Polish migration to the UK

The book launch will be held at the University campus on Wednesday 17 November at 5.15pm in 1W 3.15 and all staff and students are welcome.

A new book, written by Dr Anne White from the University of Bath, explores for the first time why Polish families choose to live in the UK and the impact on the West Country.

Dr White, a senior lecturer in Russian & East European Studies, conducted 115 interviews with Polish mothers in the UK and Poland to find out why increasing numbers of families with children were leaving Poland and settling in the UK.

The 33 UK interviews were conducted in Bristol, Bath, Frome and Trowbridge and sought to discover why so many Poles have migrated to the UK; why more children have migrated recently with their families; and how working-class families in the West of England decide how long to stay in the UK.

Dr White said: “It is often assumed that Polish migration can be explained by economic factors (and that the UK recession has therefore prompted a mass return to Poland). However, I began this research because I was surprised that so many Polish children were arriving in the UK, given that, for Polish parents since 1989, the normal and apparently economically viable pattern has been temporary migration by one parent to Western Europe.

“My book explores the changing norms and expectations in Polish localities which have encouraged tens of thousands of parents to brave uprooting their families, and the perceptions among Poles in England which shape their thoughts about return to Poland and which tend to promote settlement in the UK.”

Her findings include:

  • Many families seem likely to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future. The growth of the Polish economy as a whole is irrelevant to migrants who would only consider returning to their home region, where wages are still low and employment scarce. Families feel they cannot afford to relocate to a new location in Poland and they do not want to do so since their reasons to return would be to live in their own homes and to reunite with their extended families.
  • UK Poles tend to believe that children should lead settled lives and this makes them reluctant to uproot their children a second time, whether to return to Poland or to move to a new place in Britain; they do not even consider moving from Bath or Trowbridge to Bristol. Moreover, the perception that there is a huge gulf between Polish and English educational systems makes the idea of return to Poland with school-age children out of the question.
  • Although it became commonplace in the 1990s for one Polish parent to migrate and the rest of the family to remain in Poland, the emotional impact of separation on families and communities has caused increasing disquiet in Poland. Parents are willing to make considerable sacrifices in order to keep the family together and often this means that parents take on jobs for which they are overqualified and hang on in the UK for the sake of the children despite their feelings of personal frustration and social exclusion.
  • In order to help Polish parents integrate into the non-Polish community and access better jobs, there is a pressing need for suitable English language classes in the Bath-Bristol area. It is a myth that all UK Poles speak excellent English: many come to the UK with no English, and if they are parents with limited time and money it can be difficult for them to access language lessons, particularly at beginners’ or near beginners’ level.

The findings will enable policymakers and practitioners to make informed decisions about the potential, the priorities and the needs of Polish families expecting to remain in the UK. The book will also help readers understand the causes of the recent wave of Polish migration.

The book is published by Policy Press at the University of Bristol and can be purchased for £35 (50% discount) via the Polish Migration Website.

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