The topic of Polish emigration is a highly important issue for Poland and a challenge shared by many other Central European countries. However, additional focus should be given to the ever-increasing number of foreigners arriving and living in Poland, a largely unknown phenomenon as the country, despite the current government’s strong anti-immigration rhetoric, is steadily becoming the new home for sizable communities of foreign nationals.
To get a more detailed picture, let’s have a look at the new statistics released by the Polish state immigration office, which examines the nearly 400.000 foreigners officially registered in Poland in 2019, with records dating back to 2010 that highlight the skyrocketing evolution.
This new data provides a more comprehensive picture of how Poland has become an increasingly popular destination for foreigners, slowly following a similar path of neighboring Czechia, where foreign nationals make up 5% of the population today.
How many foreigners are living in Poland?
From 2010 to 2019, the number of foreigners living in Poland has gone up four-fold, climbing from 84.000 nine years ago to 390.000 in 2019, according to official data. Still, foreigners only account for less than 1% of the population today.
In 2010, around one third of foreigners (27.000 people) were in possession of temporary residence visas, while 23.500 people were EU citizens and 18.500 people had permanent residence. In 2019, the number of registered persons with temporary residence reached 218.000 people. 73.000 EU citizens are now registered to live in Poland, while another 73.000 people hold permanent residence permits as of 2019.
Where are they from?
In 2010, 13.000 Ukrainians were living in Poland on visas, compared to nearly 200,000 in 2019, one of the largest increases in recent years. Germany also remained high on the list in 2019 with 21.200 citizens living in Poland compared to the 11.500 nine years ago. Due to historical reasons dating back to the communist era, Vietnam has also a large community within Poland, with more than 12.000 Vietnamese citizens registered (compared to 4.500 in 2010).
For comparison’s sake, let’s also note that there were, in 2019, more than 12.000 Russian citizens officially living in Poland, over 8.500 Chinese nationals, roughly 6.000 Brits and less than 2.500 U.S. nationals.
The significant increase, that accelerated after the outbreak of the war in the Eastern part of the country, of Ukrainian immigrants coming to Poland for work and higher wages, has been reported substantially on in the media, as they remain, by far, the dominant nationality of immigrants currently settling in Poland. And while the rise of xenophobic discourse and anti-immigration rhetoric in Polish public discourse is mainly directed towards Muslim migrants from the Middle-East, the skyrocketing number of workers from Ukraine, a nation culturally close to Poland, didn’t make any waves and occurred largely peacefully and silently.
The Polish government and companies are also acutely aware of their need to turn to Ukrainian workers to meet increasing labor shortages and fill low to medium-skilled positions. It’s estimated that between 1 and 2 million Ukrainians have come to Poland over the past three or four years, often without officially settling in Poland and regularly moving back and forth.
Where are they staying?
Over the past nine years, the Mazovia Region, where the capital Warsaw is located, has remained the most highly populated by foreign nationals. In 2010 there were 26.000 recorded foreigners residing in the region, compared to more than 115.000 today.
Another very popular region for foreigners includes Lower Silesia and its capital city Wroclaw, highly attractive for students and young professionals alike and ranked as the most welcoming city in Poland. According to Wroclaw Uncut, about 10% of the population of the city is now inhabited by Ukrainians. Lower Silesia as a whole was home to 9.700 foreigners in 2010 and more than 30.000 in 2019.
The region with the second highest concentration in foreign nationals today is Lesser Poland, where the country’s second biggest city Krakow is, with 39,000 recorded foreigners, a significant increase from 6.800 in 2010.
Foreigners living in Poland: why are they here?
According to an Instat Institute of Statistics study from 2018, most of the immigration from recent years stemmed from short-term stays. Most of the immigrants came to Poland on working permits, including Ukrainians of course, but also workers from far-away countries in Asia, like Indian and Nepalese workers, whose respective embassies are struggling to keep up with the increasing number of visa deliveries.
In 2017, over 235.000 work permits were issued to non-EU citizens, with over 192.000 (82%) of those going to Ukrainian nationals (as shown on the graph below, Ukrainians always accounted for at least half of the work permits granted to immigrants in Poland) and 13.000 to Nepalis, Indians and Bangladeshis combined.
Last year, Poland once again issued a record number of work permits to non-EU citizens (328.000): the vast majority went to Ukrainians (70% of the total) followed by Nepalis, who made up the second largest group with 6% of the work permits delivered in 2018.
Education is another important reason for the increasing presence of foreign nationals, even though their relative share remains pretty marginal. In the 2016/2017 school year, there were more than 1.3 million students enrolled in Polish universities, including 65.000 non-Polish nationals, mostly from Ukraine (35.000), Belarus (5.000) or India (more than 2.000).
And finally, less than 1.400 people were granted asylum or international protection in Poland in 2019 (compared to slightly more than 800 in 2010, mostly from Russia, Belarus and Iraq), including 385 Russians, 245 Syrians and 103 Ukrainians.
Poland is, albeit slowly, catching up with the Czech Republic as a highly attractive destination for foreigners and third-country nationals, with all signs suggesting that this trend will most likely intensify within the foreseeable future.
Written by Lorna Radtke
Lorna Radtke is a student of international relations and European politics at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, and has previously also lived in Austria. Her desire to dive into European politics began during her secondary education years in the United States, her home country. Eager to pursue her interest in media and journalism by researching intriguing topics and writing original articles, she joined the team of Kafkadesk contributors in April 2019. Feel free to check out her other articles!