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New mobilities in Europe: Polish migration to Ireland post-2004

New mobilities in Europe: Polish migration to Ireland post-2004

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New mobilities in Europe: Polish migration to Ireland post-2004

256 pagine
3 ore
May 16, 2016


This book examines Polish migration to Ireland in the context of ‘new mobilities in Europe’. It includes detailed accounts of the working lives of a group of mainly skilled Polish migrants in Dublin. They were interviewed at regular intervals as part of a Qualitative Panel Study. Through this novel methodology, their careers and aspirations were traced as Ireland moved from ‘boom to bust’. What the research documents is a new experience of mobility which, it is suggested, is indicative of a broader trend in Europe. As ‘free movers’, Polish migrants were more mobile across countries and within national labour markets. Ireland’s ‘goldrush’ labour market created a seemingly endless demand for new labour. To understand how Irish firms utilised the new migrant workforce, the book also draws on interviews with employers. It thus locates the actions of both sides of the employment relationship in the particular socio-economic context in Ireland post-2004.
May 16, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

Torben Krings is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economic and Organisational Sociology, Johannes Kepler University Linz

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New mobilities in Europe - Torben Krings


Preface and acknowledgements

Today mass emigration has returned to Ireland. However, in the mid 2000s of all OECD countries apart from Canada (and tiny Luxembourg), Ireland had the highest proportion of its population born abroad. What actually drove these figures was mass immigration from Europe, above all from Poland and other new member states (NMS) of the EU.

In this new situation, Irish discussion of migration remained curiously traditional: it focused on questions of ethnicity, integration and citizenship. These were issues which had pre-occupied Europe since the classic period of post-World War Two immigration. However, unlike the Gastarbeiter of that distant past, the Poles arriving in Ireland after 2004 were fully entitled to work since they were European citizens; cheap air travel enabled them to travel back to Poland easily; above all, it was unclear whether they intended to remain in Ireland.

Using data sets such as the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS), researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) had already begun what was to become an impressive corpus of papers on the labour market participation of migrants. Although crucial for any understanding of contemporary Irish immigration, this research could say little about the actual experience and aspirations of the migrants themselves. Other Irish researchers had begun more qualitative studies of immigration, but these tended to focus on issues of identity and culture. There seemed to be very little concern with the work that the mass of migrants were doing and what they themselves actually wanted.

I was sensitised to such lacunae by our work in the Employment Research Centre (ERC) on the Irish software industry. We had discovered that this industry, an icon of the Celtic Tiger Irish economic boom, now not only depended on the importation of skilled workers, it also depended on frequent business air travel by its Irish professionals and managers. There was therefore a lot more to migration than conventional discussions of immigration allowed. Indeed the boundary between migration and ‘mobility’ was often blurred.

In 2006, such considerations prompted my proposal for a study of the careers and aspirations of Polish migrants working in Ireland. This would have two key components. Developing the methodology of an earlier ERC study of women workers in the service sector, a ‘Qualitative Panel Study’ (QPS) would use repeated interviews over several years with a comparatively small number of migrants. It would trace the careers of migrants and how these related to their – possibly changing – expectations of Ireland. Secondly, a series of workplace studies would identify the ‘employment strategies’ of employers and managers and thus see how migrants were deployed within Irish workplaces. Migrants’ work would therefore be studied from both sides of the employment relationship. Finally, this fieldwork would be contextualised by monitoring of labour market statistics.

In spring 2007, the ‘Migrant Careers and Aspirations’ project became one of the six projects of the Trinity Immigration Initiative (TII). This research programme in Trinity College Dublin had brought together colleagues from sociology, social policy and education; it generated studies that ranged from English-language acquisition in Irish schools to migrants’ experience of the justice system. The programme funded a large cohort of doctoral students working across the six projects. The TII liaised with both migrant organisations and state institutions, it held public lectures and research seminars and it culminated with an international conference on ‘New Migrations, New Challenges’ in summer 2010 (

In summer 2007, the Migrant Careers and Aspirations project team was formed under my direction with Elaine Moriarty as research fellow and Justyna Salamońska as doctoral research assistant. In due course, the project team grew to five: Alicja Bobek soon joined as a second research assistant and in 2008 Torben Krings became the second research fellow. The QPS was directed by Elaine and the interview guides were developed by the entire team. The Polish language interviews, transcriptions and translations were by Alicja and Justyna; Torben interviewed employers and managers; Elaine and Torben also carried out interviews with experts and representatives of relevant organisations.

Much of the ERC’s earlier work had been in projects funded by the European Union’s Framework research programmes. The EU insists that such projects have plans for ‘dissemination’ and ‘user involvement’. While academics often resent it, these programmes have stimulated researchers to connect their work to the wider society without becoming the appendage of a lobby group or the expression of a predefined ideological stance. Building on this experience, the Migrant Careers project had a small informal advisory group with participation from government bodies, migrant organisations, trade unions and employers’ organisations. During the lifetime of the project, we also issued four newsletters to communicate our findings to the media, policy-makers, activists and the research community. We held two research symposia with migration scholars from Ireland, the UK and Poland, but we ended the project with a policy conference which brought these colleagues together with our policy stakeholders.

All our publications have used the interview data sets collected by the team, but they are also the result of a team writing effort. One person however was always responsible for the final draft and we designated him or her as the ‘first author’. Nowhere has this been more important than in the writing of the book. Myself, Elaine and Torben began work on an initial draft as early as 2010, and we had completed chapter drafts by autumn 2011. Torben then took responsibility for turning these drafts into the final manuscript. Separately from this collective effort, both Justyna and Alicja used their interviews from the QPS as well as other material for their doctoral theses, which they successfully defended during academic year 2011/12.

TII was made possible through a generous philanthropic donation from AIB Bank. All the team gratefully acknowledge this valuable funding: the views expressed in this and other publications are of course entirely our own. We further thank David Went (then Chairman of Trinity Foundation) for his valuable input and support in the lead up to the launch of the TII. The TII itself would have been impossible without the vision, determination and commitment of Ronit Lentin who was the academic instigator of the entire programme. Within the TII, the other principal investigators provided critical support and encouragement: David Little, Eoin O’Sullivan, Peter Mühlau, Robbie Gilligan and Ronit herself. Trinity’s Institute for International Integration Studies (IIIS) provided accommodation and administrative support for the TII. We therefore thank successive directors of the IIIS, Philip Lane and Alan Matthews. Leslie McCartney, the TII research officer, provided invaluable administrative support for the project and kept our finances in order; she was ably helped by Colette Kelleher of the IIIS. Links with our various stakeholders were facilitated by the TII public liaison officer, Gerry Danaher.

We received many helpful suggestions from members of our advisory group, in particular Brian McCormick, Conor Hand, David Joyce, Kazik Anhalt, Siobhan O’Donoghue and Tony Donohoe; we were helped by members of the Polish community in Dublin, in particular Barnaba Dorda and Anna Paś, as well as staff of the Polish embassy. All of us learnt much from other researchers working in the area. There are too many to be named individually, but we would like to especially thank Adrian Favell, Alan Barrett, Anne White, Breda Gray, Catherine Casey, Emilio Reyneri, Ettore Recchi, Izabela Grabowska-Lusińska, John Eade, Jon Kvist, Maeve Holohan, Marek Kupiszewski, Marek Okólski, Martin Ruhs, Michael Doherty, Philip J. O’Connell and Sharon Bolton. We would also like to thank the staff at Manchester University Press for their forbearance and support.

Qualitative social research like this depends on interviews with a large number of people. We would especially like to thank for their time the managers and employers whom we interviewed for the workplace studies, members of Polish organisations in Dublin and representatives of other institutions. Above all, our QPS methodology demanded from each of our panel members fully six interviews spread over two years. They cannot of course be named, but our research would have been impossible without them. We hope this book will be for them a testimony to their work and life in Ireland.

James Wickham

Dublin, 18 July 2012


I remember the stress on the Austrian border when we were crossing it, when we were going there with the labourers … It was an illegal job, a completely different, different world, the one from before the EU … There was this division, this definite division between East and West and I think that over there something like this still exists … but not in here, not in here. (Oskar)

It (moving to Ireland) was totally by chance. It was during my second year in high school that I decided that I was going to go abroad somewhere. I wanted to take a gap year … and I simply wanted to learn English and get to know let’s say some more interesting cultures. (Olga)

Oskar moved to Ireland from Poland in 2002, two years before Poland and seven other countries from Central and Eastern Europe joined the European Union (EU). He initially just wanted to stay for a year but soon found work as an architect in the buoyant construction sector and stayed on. He even progressed into a managerial position. After around five years with the same company, he changed job and became a project manager in another Irish construction company. Among the reasons he was hired were his bilingual skills and knowledge of the Polish market as his new company began to target the Polish market in the midst of a deep economic crisis in Ireland. As part of his new job, he now frequently travels to Poland.

Olga moved to Ireland in 2006 and began to work as an au pair. After some months, she left this position as she wanted to live on her own and get a ‘normal job’. She soon found a job as a waitress in a Dublin restaurant and since then has worked in a number of different hospitality establishments in the city. In spite of some rather unpleasant work experiences, she was very positive about her time in Ireland. She became more self-reliant, learned English and earned some money to finance a mobile lifestyle. After a brief stint in the UK, she decided to leave the ‘old’ world for the ‘new’ and moved to North America. Over there, she again started working in a restaurant. By now she had effectively become a ‘transnational waitress’.

In spite of rather different career trajectories, what these two stories have in common is a new experience of mobility. They illustrate how EU enlargement and an open labour market have transformed the Polish migration experience in Ireland. Ireland was, together with the UK and Sweden, the only ‘old’ EU member states that opened the labour market to the citizens of the new EU member states (NMS) in 2004. This policy in conjunction with an unprecedented economic boom in Ireland and severe labour market problems in Poland triggered large-scale migration. Whereas according to the 2002 Census around 2,000 Polish migrants were living in Ireland, four years later the Census enumerators counted 63,000 Polish nationals in the country. Five years later again, this number had risen to over 120,000. By all accounts, this has been a dramatic increase.

What were the particular features of this East–West migration? To what extent did these movements represent a new form of mobility in the enlarged EU? What has been the experience of Polish migrants in an open labour market? What were their plans and aspirations? How did they access employment? To what extent did lifestyle choices matter? How did their careers develop? What has been the impact of the recession as Ireland has gone from ‘boom to bust’?

This book is about Polish migration to Ireland and the wider implications of increased cross-border mobility in Europe. At first sight, the mass movement of young Poles to Ireland after 2004 resembled traditional labour migration – the push of high unemployment in Poland, the pull of a tight labour market in Ireland. However, it is the main contention of the book that this migration goes beyond classical patterns of labour migration. Most noticeably, these movements are characterised by new mobility patterns. As ‘free movers’ (Favell, 2008a), Polish migrants are not only more mobile across countries but also within national labour markets. This has opened up new work opportunities, career chances and lifestyle choices. Arguably, Polish migrants are part of a new generation of mobile Europeans who increasingly make use of their free movement rights in pursuit of flexible worklife pathways in the new European mobility space.

In many aspects, intra-European mobility poses a challenge to traditional understandings of migration. Whereas migration was traditionally seen as a one-off move to a new country, contemporary movements are often multidirectional and transient, blurring the distinction between migration and other forms of mobility such as tourism, commuting and student migration. As there is increased mobility not only across countries but also across organisations, the ‘boundaryless career’ (Arthur, 1994) increasingly shapes the work experience of mobile Europeans.

While work continues to feature prominently, this is no longer the classical pattern of labour migration. Many of these movements are undertaken for reasons other than conventional economic motivations, and even apparently economic movements turn out to involve a lot more than just market rationality (King, 2002). Sometimes the purpose of work is simply to finance a mobile lifestyle. Instead of assuming that migration is simply for economic gain, we need to uncover individual migrants’ aspirations and, furthermore, accept that these may well change over time.

At the centre of this book are detailed accounts of the working lives of a group of twenty-two Polish migrants in Dublin. Almost all of them arrived in Ireland in the aftermath of EU enlargement in 2004. They were young, relatively well-educated and found employment in a variety of occupations, ranging from general operatives and less-skilled service sector positions to managerial and professional positions. To examine their worklife pathways in an open labour market, we interviewed them at regular intervals for two years as part of a Qualitative Panel Study (QPS). We were thus able to trace the careers and aspirations of this group of Polish migrants as they encountered new problems and opportunities. Whether they stayed in Ireland, returned to Poland or moved on to other countries, we tracked their careers and aspirations through six interview waves. The book thus represents one of the first applications of qualitative longitudinal research to the study of migration and employment.

Although it is one of the main arguments of the book that contemporary cross-border mobility in Europe is more than just ‘labour migration’, employment and the workplace remain crucial to the study of migration. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Ireland experienced an unprecedented economic boom. Polish migrants entered a ‘goldrush’ labour market with a seemingly endless supply of jobs and demand for new labour. In times of a rapidly expanding workforce, there were considerable job opportunities not only at the bottom of the labour market, but across the occupational structure. To a considerable extent, this migration was demand-driven. However, this in itself does not tell us much about how employers were recruiting migrants and what they were looking for. Hence, we also carried out interviews with employers and managers in those employment sectors in which the participants of our QPS were located: construction, hospitality, financial services and IT. This has been complemented with interviews with the social partners and other stakeholders.

The book therefore takes an actor-centred approach to the study of migration. However, the choices of both sides of the employment relationship can only be properly understood if the broader socio-economic context is taken into account. Hence, the book locates the actions of both migrants and employers in the particular conjuncture that was Ireland at the beginning of the twenty-first century: an unprecedented economic boom, a massive demand for additional labour and an open labour market. It was within this specific context that Ireland became a major destination for Polish and other NMS migrants who were quick to make use of their new free movement rights in the enlarged EU.

Outline of the book

Chapter one outlines the conceptual argument of the book. We argue that East–West migration is characterised by new mobility patterns which distinguishes it from previous migration movements. These new mobilities are facilitated, in particular, by the EU free movement regime, but also by low-cost air travel and new information and communication technologies (ICTs). These developments provide the context for a more individualistic form of migration which is less reliant on dense ethnic networks. As ‘free movers’, Polish and other European migrants have new mobility opportunities and lifestyle choices that go beyond the employment experience.

Chapter two outlines the methodology. We argue that a QPS is a suitable methodological tool to study the new mobility patterns of East–West migration. Using six waves of qualitative interviews, we were able to link the individual work biographies of migrants to the changing context of the Irish labour market as it went from ‘boom to bust’. Further, the chapter explains why we have chosen to study the career trajectories of Polish migrants and the strategies and attitudes of employers in four employment sectors: construction, hospitality, financial services and IT.

Chapter three locates Polish migration post-2004 in the broader Irish labour market context. It shows how a booming and open labour market triggered large-scale migration from the NMS. Ireland’s goldrush labour market was able to integrate large numbers of migrants into the workforce without leading to major displacements of the native population. However, in the context of an unprecedented economic downturn, the labour market situation has dramatically changed, as migrants have been particularly affected by rising unemployment.

Chapter four is the first chapter based on our interviews and examines the initial plans and aspirations of migrants and the recruitment strategies of employers. We show that economic motives, in particular the search for a higher income, were important reasons that influenced the move abroad. However, there were also less straightforward non-instrumental reasons, including the search for adventure and travel. Upon arrival, migrants found employment relatively quickly, utilising formal and informal recruitment channels. On the employer side, we show how Ireland’s open labour market policy in 2004 transformed

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