Poland’s legal foreign labor force is now estimated to be 2 million strong as the country takes an increasingly liberal approach to immigration. Even as Poland has been opposing illegal migration and the relocation of refugees, it has also been importing foreign labor to an ever-increasing extent.
The number of work permits reached record levels in 2021, with over half a million such documents being issued. This represented an increase of 24 percent over the previous year and was nearly eight times the figure issued in 2015. The highest number of permits in 2021 went to Ukrainians (64.5 percent). Uzbekistan and India each had 3 percent, and the Philippines received 2.6 percent.
The figures show that 23.4 percent of foreign workers were employed in industry, 21.9 percent in construction, and 20.9 percent in transport.
In 2022, the number of permits to foreigners fell to just over 350,000, but that was only because many Ukrainians took advantage of wartime legislation giving them full working rights in Poland without the need to seek permits. Nevertheless, in the lifetime of the ruling conservative government, the number of migrants coming to work per year has been in the six figures, whereas previously it had been below 100,000.
The opposition and many media outlets point to the fact that Poland is steadfastly opposing the relocation of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, while at the same time importing foreign workers.
This may be a clear contradiction by some measures, but the current Polish government has been consistent in its stance. It is not opposed to foreign workers, but rather to the compulsory relocation of migrants who do not really want to come to Poland and who could be a security risk and a burden on the welfare system.
According to OECD figures, by 2050, Poland will have 7 million fewer people of working age in its population. This means Poland must either import labor or quickly automate many of the tasks currently performed by humans. The latter will not be easy, as Poland still lags behind in terms of automation, spending only 1.4 percent of its GDP on research and development.
Poland is in the meantime becoming attractive to foreign workers, and currently, it would be hard for Poland to continue its development without them. Still, this will bring challenges regarding integration and future citizenship. The current conservative government argues that these challenges would be made harder rather than easier by taking in thousands of people who entered Europe illegally and that the EU should not be pushing such a scheme.