The Polish economy needs immigrant workers. Who should we invite?

Low population growth and economic emigration may lead to a sharp crisis in Poland's pension system and public finances. This can be prevented by a conscious family policy and economic immigration to Poland, especially from countries that are culturally close to us. We should be particularly eager to attract young and educated people. Is this realistic?

The figures are alarming. In terms of fertility Poland ranks in 211th place among 226 surveyed countries. In the first half of 2013 only 183,000 children were born in Poland while 202,000 people died. According to the data of the National Census of Population and Housing from 2011, out of Polish citizens with permanent residence in the country, more than 2,017,000 remained abroad for at least three months, including 1,560,000 for more than one year.

Although Poland remains an „emigration country”, according to the authors of the „Cost and benefits of Labour Mobility Between the EU and the Eastern Partnership Partner Countries” report published this year, Maciej Duszczyk, Marek Góra and Paweł Kaczmarczyk, immigration to Poland is becoming more common.

According to the Energy for Europe Foundation there are three main approaches to demographic policy, allowing to minimise the effects of the deepening crisis. The first one is a policy focused on pursuing professional activation. Another solution is a family policy, that will enable increasing the number of future workers. Economic immigration seems to be the third necessary short-term and medium-term solution.

According to the Foundation, as many as 5.2 million people should settle in our country by 2060 „in order for Poland not to run out of workers”. In comparison, the estimates of the NBP indicate the necessity of 100 000 immigrants per year. This goal will not be easy to achieve for Poland.

>>read more: The Poles are leaders in emigration; someone has to replace them here

According to projections, the number of immigrants coming to Poland may increase by up to 30-80% by 2020. This, however, does not mean that Poland will be „flooded” with immigrants – according to Góra, Kaczmarczyk and Duszczyk, their number will increase only by 10-35 thousand. Of course, economic development is the best way to encourage people to come to Poland. We should remember, however, that for Poland to achieve at least the current level of development of the Western countries will take decades. But what can we do before that?

First of all – do no harm

Firstly, we should stop disturbing those who have nevertheless decided to come to Poland. It has to be admitted that since the beginning of the Third Polish Republic, great progress has been made in this respect. Between 1990 and 2006 virtually all foreigners needed to have a work permit. In 2006 some exemptions to this rule were introduced and since July 2011 work permits are no longer required from, among others, the citizens of EU and EEA countries, as well as citizens of Switzerland and Turkey and graduates of full-time studies completed in Poland.

In turn, the system of declarations of intent to employ a foreigner has proved to be a significant facilitation for the citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova and Georgia, who are able to work without a permit for 6 months during the year. The situation is made more complicated, however, by the employer’s obligation to submit an appropriate declaration. It is also necessary for the prospective employee to have a visa.

Thus, these regulations are still not the most liberal, which increases the number of people working illegally. This is important, since the citizens of the Eastern Partnership countries, and especially Ukraine, are the most common economic immigrants. The latter make up nearly half of the legal immigrant workers from these countries.

Yes to a smart immigration policy

Opening up to immigrants is necessary, but an ill-conceived immigration policy may only exacerbate the problems of the public finances. This is the case of immigrants who for cultural reasons or due to simple lack of qualifications do not want to assimilate and undertake employment, becoming a burden on the social welfare institutions and, in extreme cases, a threat to public safety.

In order to avoid such problems, it is advisable first of all to accept immigrants from countries that are culturally close to us. Therefore we should focus mainly on enabling the repatriation of Poles and people of Polish origin and on supporting the immigration of people from the countries of the former USSR, such as the Ukrainians, Belorussians, Moldavians, Armenians, Russians and Georgians.

A smart immigration policy is one that pays attention not only to cultural proximity, but also to the intellectual value of the immigrants. In essence, the idea is not to bring in only unskilled workers, as is largely the case today, but also to import high-quality human capital. However, in order to attract exceptional minds and creative people, Poland must first begin to be associated with innovation, and that requires changes in the structure of public expenditure.

According to the Innovation Union Scoreboard, prepared by the European Commission, Poland is in the weakest group of the so-called “modest innovators” along with such countries as Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia. This is hardly surprising, since our country spends only 0.77% of our GDP on research and development.  For comparison, in the United States this figure is at 3% and the average in the EU is 2.03%.

If we want to attract skilled and talented workers, we need to change this situation as soon as possible. Direct incentives may also prove to be of significance. The „Energy for Europe Foundation” proposes the creation of a special guest package for people with high professional qualifications. It would be offered to 10,000 immigrants per year.

The contribution of immigrants will be very useful in the coming decades. We need not be afraid of them if we pursue a wise policy. According to the aforementioned „Cost and benefits of Labour Mobility Between the EU and the Eastern Partnership Partner Countries” report, only 3% of the Ukrainians living in the Warsaw region have the right to unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, the vast majority of them – 70% – are employed legally and therefore pay taxes and contributions which are financing, among others, the Polish social welfare system.

Can we expect, however, that immigrants will solve the problems of an ailing pension system? It seems that their help will be necessary, but not sufficient. The combined population of Ukraine and Belarus (most immigrants come to us from these countries) is approximately 55 million. These countries, and especially Ukraine, are facing their own demographic problems. For example, between 1989 and 2001 the population of Ukraine decreased by three million people.

It is unlikely that 5.2 million people from this area will move to Poland by 2060. The competition of western countries who are also seeking immigrants will be too strong. Although the gap may be filled by representatives of other nations, this is less likely due to strong cultural differences.

In the end we should conclude that immigration, while important, is no substitute for a long-term family policy as well as measures aimed at stimulating economic growth, which would also contribute to the return of the Polish emigrants. Otherwise, our pension system will inevitably collapse with all the consequences that that entails.

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