C&B Notes

Western Europeans Head East for Work

As Western European economies struggle to grow and contend with crippling (and still rising) unemployment levels, workers are heading east to countries like Poland.  Eastern Europe is certainly not without its challenges, but it is generally unburdened by the pension and welfare regimes that are contributing to the economic woes in Western Europe.

The troubles in the eurozone periphery are reversing the flow of migrants in Europe.  If Poland was known just a few years ago for huge outflows of workers, now Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians are being tempted east.  “My home is here now — I think of Portugal mainly in terms of eventually retiring by the sea,” says Hugo Varzielas, 33, a native of Portugal now working as a business analyst for HP’s Global Business outsourcing center in the western Polish city of Wroclaw.  “If you look at the long term in Poland it’s going up, up, up, while the other countries of western Europe not so much,” he says.

Mr Varzielas is not alone. As many as 10 per cent of the 100,000 people now working in the outsourcing sector are foreign nationals, according to Jacek Levernes, head of the association of Business Leaders in Poland, a lobby group representing the fast-growing sector.  Poland’s outsourcing industry is expected to expand by about 20 per cent this year.  Official statistics show about 7,000 EU citizens moving to Poland in a given year, but the data are not very sound because migrants are not required to register with Polish authorities, said Krystyna Iglicka, a demographer with Warsaw’s Centre for International Relations, a think-tank.  “This is an invisible flow based on anecdotal evidence, but there is no doubt that such a flow exists,” she said.  “We can assume that the trend will strengthen, although of course it does not compare in size to the outflow of Poles.”  The reason they are coming is Poland’s relatively strong economy.  It was the only EU member to dodge recession in 2009.  Now, despite a sharp slowdown, the economy is still eking out growth of about 2 per cent, far better than in the troubled fringes of the eurozone.