When Poland’s Catholic bishops recently debated their Church’s work abroad, its mission in Britain featured prominently. Since the EU referendum in 2016, there has been much uncertainty among Britain’s large Polish minority, as well as among the Polish clergy ministering here.
At least 1.5 million Poles headed for Britain after their country’s 2004 accession to the European Union, fleeing 20 per cent unemployment and widespread social dissatisfaction. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were reports that Poles were being publicly confronted over when they would be going home.
While Britain’s official Crime Survey suggests hate incidents are now down, the unease continues. The London-based Polish Express, the highest circulation Polish newspaper outside Poland, has carried a “Brexit-Alert” section, urging readers to “stay informed” about their rights and prospects.
Many Poles have been encouraged by the current simplification of procedures for seeking British citizenship, as well as by promises from Theresa May that those already here will be allowed to claim “settled status”.
Despite this, Wojciech Tobiasiewicz, chairman of London’s Polish Social and Cultural Centre (POSK), thinks the Brexit vote has dealt a severe blow to Polish confidence. While this has mostly affected the “new immigration” – Poles who came after 2004 for work and didn’t plan to settle – he argues that many from the older, post-war and post-Solidarity generations now also feel less welcome.
The falling exchange rate has played its part: though most Poles earn considerably more in Britain, their net earnings even out when the much higher living and accommodation costs are considered. Many have also accepted worse conditions here than they would in Poland. Now that the job market has improved at home, with more support for families and demand for skilled labourers, they’re tempted to go back.
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