March 19, 2008 / 5:54 PM / 11 years ago

Poles starting to return from Britain

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poles who left in droves to work in Britain over the past four years look to be returning home because of a weaker pound and other factors, a business group said on Wednesday.

Britain saw an influx of migrant workers after Poland and other east European countries joined the European Union in 2004.

But there are early signs that some of the estimated 800,000 Poles who work in Britain may be returning or mulling a return as their earnings lose value against the stronger Polish currency.

“Anecdotally, we can say that people are starting to drift back, especially those who work for the minimum wage and left families back home,” said Michael Dembinski, policy director at the British Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw.

“Today people are sending back one third less of what they earn per hour in zlotys, compared to four years ago,” he said.

In May 2004, when Poland became the EU’s largest ex-communist member with a population of 38 million, one pound was worth 7.19 zlotys. On Wednesday it traded at 4.49 zlotys.

Indicating a slowdown in migration, 40 percent fewer Poles signed up for the UK worker registration scheme in the last three months of the year, the third consecutive quarterly drop, Dembinski said.

But he cautioned there were no reliable statistics on the actual numbers of Poles returning or those still leaving to work abroad.

Other factors may also be encouraging Polish citizens to return home. Unemployment has halved since Poland joined the EU, helped by a decade of high economic growth and the migration of workers.

Employers in some of the larger Polish cities are in search of skilled labour, especially in sectors such as construction.

Wages have also been growing steadily, bringing them closer to western European levels.

The migration wave, which also took Polish workers to countries such as Ireland or the Netherlands, was among the issues that helped bring the centre-right to power five months ago when voters booted out the conservatives led by the Kaczynski twins.

Editing by Janet Lawrence

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