Politics Member States

Poland: A new promised land

12 June 2013
Przekrój Warsaw

A job fair in Wrocław, April 2011

A job fair in Wrocław, April 2011

The tables have now turned for job seekers in Europe. As austerity and unemployment drives young people from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece in search of work, Poland is rapidly becoming an attractive destination for international job hunters.

Elena Barcia Fernandez, from the sunny island of Majorca, was only 20 when the crisis hit the EU. At that time, in 2008, it was still referred to as a financial crisis. Two years later, it became an economic crisis. Today, Elena puts it straight: it is an existential crisis. No work, no money, no prospects.

One in two Spaniards aged 18-30 is unemployed. If you do have a job, you never know if you will keep if because in Spain a job is lost every minute. The number of the unemployed has reached an all-time high of 6 million. "Compared with Spain, Poland is a prosperous country today," Ms Fernandez tells Przekrój.

She says young people are leaving Spain because they do not believe politicians anymore. How are they supposed to believe them? Before the elections, the ruling Popular Party pledged to create 3.5 million jobs. Now the government has announced that during this term, which ends in 2015, it will actually be able create none at all.

The situation is similar elsewhere in southern Europe: in Portugal, Italy, Greece, or Cyprus. Employees in all sectors are losing jobs and young people find it very hard to enter the labour market. To improve their chances with would-be employers, many young people in Spain and Italy are removing their tattoos.

The most determined and courageous are migrating. Popular destinations include northern countries such as Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium or the UK, where unemployment is relatively low. Labour market conditions are also favourable in Malta and Luxembourg. And in Poland.

Polonia Mi Casa

"Poland offers great opportunities. The situation on the labour market is surely much better here than in Spain," says Oscar Charro, 35, who moved to Poland a year ago. That was a well thought-out decision: he wanted to start a business but in Spain, where a dozen or so small and medium-sized businesses go bust every day, that hardly seemed a good idea. That is why Mr Charro decided to launch his venture in one of the EU countries enjoying faster growth than Spain. He ultimately chose Poland because here, he says, you have space to grow.

"Warsaw is a truly European capital. When I’m here, I feel I’m in the right place at the right time," he beams.

Mr Charro has started a solar energy business. "I’m seriously considering staying in Poland and pursuing my career here," he adds.

Diego Garea, 32, an IT systems specialist, moved to Warsaw in August last year. He visited the city for the Euro 2012 football tournament, only to learn upon his return to Spain that he had lost his job. He came up with the idea of sending his CV to IT firms in the tournament’s host country. It worked. Since September 2012, he has been employed at a small digital design company. Next month, his girlfriend, who has failed to find a job in Spain, is also coming to Poland. At first she will be using her skills as a native Spanish speaker to find work. Then perhaps her friends will come too and together they will be able to open a Spanish restaurant.

"For us, getting a job in Poland is a great thing. We want to live on our own, feel responsible, have our duties and expenses. We want to be independent," says Ines Ribas Garau, a 25-year-old from the south of Spain. "Work gives us a chance to grow up," she adds seriously. Ms Garau believes that work is not just an economic issue but also a psychological one. "Joblessness burns you out mentally, paralysing your social and emotional growth," she says.

When Moises Delgado was moving to Poland a decade ago, his Spanish friends were surprised. Just like Ms Garau and Ms Fernandez, he first came to Poland as an Erasmus student. He liked it here, learned the language, and got a job in his profession. He says he is happy in Poland: "Coming here was the right thing to do. I’m a philologist by education and I found a job in the publishing sector."

Heaps of Applications

There has been a sense of amazement at Polish companies’ HR departments: heaps of job applications from western Europe are growing on their desks, mainly for engineering and management positions. Most arrive from the crisis-hit European south: Portugal, Spain, Italy. Most of the foreign applicants are young people with little experience but well educated. Another group are managers with experience at multinational corporations. With a sharp depression in the construction sector, demand for architects has fallen in Spain by as much as 90 per cent. Polish architecture firms are finding themselves besieged.

The number of candidates from developed countries seeking jobs in Poland has skyrocketed over the last year or so, rising several fold. That is hardly surprising given that the unemployment rate among people aged 25-35 in Poland is at a mere 10.5 per cent, not much higher than in a prime job-migration destination like the UK, where it is a 8 per cent.

The Spanish language can be heard more and more often in cities such as Kraków, Poznań, Wrocław or Gdańsk. "Every night I have at least 20 Spaniards enjoying their drinks here," says the barman at Warszawska. They drink to their success. Many have finally found a job, and even if they earn less than they would in western Europe, they also spend less. Poland remains a country with relatively low living costs. And, it turns out, a fun one in which to live.

"Living here is really fun. Eastern Europe used to be terra incognita for us. We’re now discovering it, and it’s been a very pleasant experience. We’ve even learned to cure hangover with pickled cucumbers. Polish people have been very kind to us. We love you!" says Rodrigo, leaning over the bar. He is buying a round of Polish walnut liqueur for his Spanish friends and they all raise their glasses in the traditional Polish toast: "Na zdrovye!"

Translated from the Polish by Marcin Wawrzyńczak