In one of the simplest terms, migration is a relatively lasting change in the social environment in which we operate. At the same time – as Mark J. Miller and Stephen Castles point out – we are now living in the ‘migration age’. The mobility of people is greater than ever. It is estimated that there were more than 272 million migrants worldwide in 2019, understood as people living outside the country of birth. This means that if these people were to be gathered in one country, it would be the world’s fifth-most populous country, right after China, India, the United States, and Indonesia.
Poles, compared to other nations, have relatively large mobility. It has been estimated that the Polish diaspora worldwide can have as many as 20 million people. Since 2015, in the historical building of the Maritime Station in Gdynia, the first museum devoted to this diaspora and the history of Polish emigration has been operating. The Museum tells us about the history of trips and the fate of Poles in the world in close connection with contemporary life. Evidence of this is the scientific project called ‘E-migration. Polish technological diaspora’, executed by the Museum in cooperation with the PLUGinFoundation. In May, a report summarising its second edition was published.
The project is devoted to Poles and people with Polish roots who work abroad. Mainly in the sectors of modern technologies, innovations or creative industries, i.e. those areas of the economy in which human capital – knowledge, skills and competencies – play an essential role. Also, it sheds some light on the functioning of Polish highly qualified e-migrants, especially considering their professional situation, migration experiences, social and professional relations in emigration. As well as a sense of identity and ties with the country, cooperation with Polish organisations and businesses, and prospects of returning to Poland.
The main reasons for going abroad are consistent with the findings of the first edition of the project. As before, the critical motivators for leaving Poland are curiosity, the desire to learn more about the world, personal development, as well as better professional and salary prospects. While younger representatives of the tech diaspora are more likely to travel for educational purposes. There is also a greater emphasis on personal development (as a factor for departure).
I invented this course of study because I have always been interested in fashion. It was something that I wanted to learn, and there is no field of studies in Poland to date that would offer everything that foreign universities do.
Woman, 27 years old, United Kingdom
The older migrants, on the other hand, more often mention the lack of prospects in Poland or the desire for family reunification and personal reasons. The qualitative study, exploring the reasons for emigration, emphasises an interesting issue related to the purely professional aspect. As it turns out, it is not high wages that are perceived by the respondents as the main benefit of working abroad. The most important are the non-salary related elements, such as work culture and ethics, good team relations, reduced stress, effective and friendly company and team management, optimal work-life balance, and the opportunity to take on new challenges.
People in the West respect each other more. If I have a supervisor in a senior position, he/she talks with me as an equal person. He/she does not treat me as an unskilled worker who is playing him/her. In Poland, we did things much faster, and they were of very high quality, but they were tantamount to moral losses. People have burnt themselves out. In my team, 75% visited a psychotherapist. Such a pursuit of money, comparing oneself. In Poland, my bosses liked to flash luxury cars around. They bought new ones every year. Here we are working on the most expensive game in the world where people earn huge money and people drive old carts. They do not need to show themselves or talk about money. People are happy with what they have. This is a favourable feeling, and I could get rid of this pressure.
Man, 35 years old, United Kingdom
Reasons to stay abroad
Respondents evaluate their life abroad very well, both in general terms and in areas related to their professional status, family relations and health. Compared to the 2018 study, the current group of respondents assessed some aspects lower, including professional situation (decrease by 3 percentage points compared to the previous study), spending free time (decrease by 3 p.p.), social life (decrease by 4 p.p.), relations with the family (increase by 4 p.p.)
Although the differences are within the range of statistical error, they may signal a certain process that is more clearly visible through the analysis of qualitative data. It seems very likely that it could have been the pandemic that may have had the greatest impact on the respondents’ satisfaction in these areas. Respondents acknowledge that the structures associated with the fight against the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 have significantly reduced leisure activities - including building and maintaining professional and social relationships.
Survey participants noted that the job market situation in highly specialised - innovative industries has changed for the worse in the wake of the pandemic. It is worth noting, however, that the respondents themselves are not afraid of losing their jobs. And, in fact, they view the changes in their professional lives associated with the pandemic as positive. For them, lockdown is a time of development or professional stabilisation. They welcome the opportunity to work remotely - which means more flexibility, more time spent with the family, no need for commuting to the office, and less stress.
During the pandemic, I changed my job. [...] At the beginning of March, we started working remotely. I started my course in February. In May, I quitted my job in the advertising agency and continued my course remotely. In October, I got a job in my current company. I have been working remotely until now. The pandemic did not obstruct me. I spread my wings during it. I started working in a company that I like very much, with people who are fantastic and know a lot of things. I learn non-stop.
Woman, 30 years old, Argentina
In interviews with representatives of the technological diaspora - in the context of life satisfaction - the theme of satisfaction with workplace relationships is prominent. Representatives of the IT industry very often compare the current work culture and professional relations to working conditions in Poland. They stress, once again, that the style of company and team management was very unsatisfactory there. There tended to be toxic relationships and the work routine often took a heavy toll on private life.
Research representatives of the technological diaspora are very open to relations with residents of the country and immigrants of other nationalities (as in the previous version of the project). On the other hand, they relatively rarely maintain contact with other Polish emigrants or representatives of the technological diaspora.
I maintain my professional relations most with the Argentinians and Venezuelans (there are many of them in Argentina) and in my current and previous job. I am also in contact with the Brazilians. I have the closest relations with several Argentines. Two closest friends are two Polish women living here. I met them here. They are purely private relations. They work in an international corporation. I met them in the FB group ‘Poles in Buenos Aires’.
Woman, 30 years old, Argentina
The evaluation of the in-depth interviews shows that, despite a high degree of openness, the respondents live partly in certain ‘social bubbles’, further aggravated by the COVID-19 lockdown. Technological emigrants focus primarily on maintaining private relationships - with family, friends, closest acquaintances. Most often, this social circle does not exceed a few people. Professional contacts – regardless of nationality – are quite limited and superficial. Emigrants living in, e.g. Germany, Spain or Canada, note that people from these countries take a very long time to establish deeper relationships that go beyond appropriate yet purely professional contacts.
Living within a diaspora
What characterises the persons surveyed in the current edition of the project is their openness to make contact with other Polish emigrants through social media (e.g. Facebook groups). However, they see some limitations of these tools, especially in the context of online ‘haters’.
There are now far fewer representatives of the tech diaspora thinking about returning home than there were in the 2018 group (36% vs 49% in 2018). The key areas that demotivate the respondents to return are, in particular, the political situation in the country (listed more frequently than in 2018), the economic situation in the country (also indicated more frequently), and the quality of life.
In addition, the reluctance to return is aggravated by a stabilised family situation (starting a family, bringing up children, buying an apartment) and the professional situation (a stable, well-paid, satisfying full-time job). While in the context of quality of life, respondents very much praise elements such as high working culture, environmental and air quality issues, high quality of healthcare, and education.
I absolutely do not consider returning to Poland. This is all about two things: healthcare and environmental protection. Here there is extremely clean air and clean water, so children are not ill. I have acquainted with Poles, she is less educated, he works for companies like Porsche, they were in different places around the world, and they thought ‘we have a dough, we will rent a large house near Wrocław, EUR 1000 a month, it is not a lot’. They have gone. It was nice in July, August, September, it was still warm, and then it started. Traffic jams on roads, congestion, and the beastliness of people in shops. The health service, in which suddenly the money that is earned disappears, there is no money, and it is the antibiotic that has to be paid, and it is necessary to go to the doctor again.
Man, 51 years old, Germany
The strong link between the quality of life and working abroad is confirmed by the declarations of some respondents on their current earnings. They admit that work in a similar position in Poland would be associated with higher wages and often a higher material standard of living than at present. And, yet they do not decide to return home.
Read more about the findings in the ‘E-migration. Polish technological diaspora’ report at https://polska1.pl/wiedza/projekty/projekty-naukowe/.