25th Feb 2024

Fear of 'youth drain' from new member states

Some new member states are battling with a 'youth drain' as well-qualified young people leave for jobs in western Europe, according to a new report.

Published on Wednesday (10 August) by the NGO, European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), the report suggests that "3% to 5% of young new member states nationals who [have] completed a third-level education tend to leave their home countries for better wage prospects".

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  • Do the transitional labour restrictions make 'Polish plumbers' more numerous? (Photo: Polish tourist information office in Paris)

"Sending countries (such as Poland or Hungary) fear not simply a brain drain but rather a youth drain", states the report.

Statistics show that workers tend to be predominantly young (18-34) and male.

Poland, as the biggest new member state, has the most nationals abroad. Poles make up the biggest number of eastern workers in the UK (98,235 or 56%), Ireland (40,000) and Sweden, where Poles account for 60 percent - all three member states opened their borders to new member state workers.

In Germany, where there is a seven-year transitional period before free movement is allowed, Poles are again the most numerous, with 216,575 seasonal workers and almost 20,000 contractual workers registered in the first half of 2004.


ECAS says that the statistical data on migration within the EU since enlargement last year shows that fears about an influx of workers to old member states proved to be a myth.

"The scare-mongering was wrong", said Tony Venables, head of ECAS adding "There is still an enormous gap between the public perception of enlargement and what is happening on the ground".

The authors of the report suggest that particularly in the UK, Ireland and Sweden, migrants from new member states tend to be temporary, so do not bring their family, and take jobs that others cannot or will not do.

In Warsaw, for example, a training school has been set up to prepare Polish dentists to work in Britain, where there is a lack of dentists.

Ireland most popular destination

However, the lack of restrictions in the UK, Sweden and Ireland has led to a sharp increase in the numbers of workers coming to these countries, when compared to pre-enlargement data.

In the UK, 175,000 workers have registered - much higher than the 5,000 to 10,000 predicted by the British government.

Similarly, in Ireland, 85,000 social security numbers have been allocated to migrants from accession countries, a high percentage for the small four-million strong country.

In Sweden, which is the only country that also allows equal access to its social security system, there was a 70 percent increase in the number of applications for residence permits.

But arguing that these workers fill a gap that needed to be filled, Mr Venables said that the justification for transitional measures restricting workers - in 12 of the 15 old member states -"appears indefensible".

He also indicated that there may be a link between the transitional measures and the 'Polish plumber' syndrome in France, which has become a metaphor for all the fears about cheap eastern labour.

He suggests that because it is so difficult for a Polish worker to get employed in France, the worker becomes self-employed, and charges cheaper Polish prices.

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