9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS03 East and West in Europe

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Migration and multicultural communities Building I, 1E7

"Free movers" instead of immigrants? Polish migrants in the Irish labour market

Since EU enlargement in 2004, Ireland experienced large-scale immigration from the new EU member states (NMS). Currently, NMS migrants account for almost eight per cent of the Irish labour Force. As such, Ireland has by far the highest share of NMS migrants of all "old" EU15 countries. It is therefore well-placed to study recent East-West migration which arguably constitutes "a new migration system in Europe" (Favell 2008).

In some important aspects, East-West migration resembles earlier "guestworker" and post-colonial immigration in Europe. Then, as now, there was a significant income gap between sending and destination countries and migrants were over-represented in labour-intensive, low-paid jobs. However, contemporary intra-European migration exhibits some novel features that sets it apart from previous population movements. Whereas many immigrants who arrived during the "guestworker" era settled down in the host society, current forms of intra-European migration appear to be more transient. Facilitated by a free movement regime and new and cheap travel opportunities, many NMS migrants are in fact more likely to be "free movers" (Favell 2008) than permanent immigrants.

To illuminate the novel character of recent migration flows from the NMS, this paper utilise data from an ongoing Qualitative Panel Study on the experience of Polish migrants in the Irish labour market. The preliminary findings of the study suggest that the initial decision to move to Ireland was mainly based on economic considerations, although for some the desire to improve their English and the search for a better "quality of life" also featured prominently. Moreover, perhaps contrary to a widespread perception, NMS migrants are not confined to low-skilled jobs but are found in occupations across the skills spectrum. Most importantly, in spite of the fact that some have to endure harsh working conditions and violation of their employment rights, the fact that as EU citizens they enjoy the same rights as Irish nationals in the labour market has opened up new career opportunities often unknown to previous generations of European immigrants.

Favell, A. (2008) "The new face of East-West migration in Europe", in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34 (5): 701-716.