More Polish workers returned home than left the country for the first time in nearly a decade, fueled by Brexit concerns and a booming local job market.
A record exodus from the U.K. drove the 85,000-net decline in the number of Polish citizens living abroad last year to 2.46 million, according to the latest data from the Warsaw-based Central Statistics Office. Poland’s unemployment rate is also hovering near the lowest since communist times, helping to boost wages as employers battle for workers.
The number of Poles working in the U.K. fell by 98,000 to 695,000 amid uncertainty about the terms that EU nationals will be allowed to stay in the country following Brexit, as well as reports of anti-immigrant behavior, including incidents targeting Poles. The decline meant that the U.K. trailed Germany’s 706,000 Polish workers — the first time the country’s hasn’t topped the list since 2006.
Poles are starting to return home as years of nearly 5% economic growth has left domestic businesses running out of workers. That’s a reversal from when Poland joined the European Union in 2004, opening a rush of emigration on the lure of abundant jobs and higher wages in western Europe.
Since joining the EU, the number of economic migrants from Poland has more than doubled to a peak of surpassing 2.5 million in 2017.
The country developed one of the EU’s most mobile workforces when its accession to the bloc gave Poles the right to work in a number of member states, including the U.K. and Ireland.