The final report of the project “The impact of Brexit on migration from the V4 countries to the UK: migrant strategies” has been published today as part of the CMR Working Papers series. It can be downloaded here:
The final meeting of the project took place in Warsaw on 30-31st January 2023. The consortium was hosted by the co-ordinator, the Centre of Migration Research University of Warsaw (CMR UW). On the first day, the project members discussed in detail the joint article. It must be mentioned, that since the kick-off meeting in 2019, this was the first time when team members could meet and exchange ideas in person. Following the fruitful discussion, on 31st the teams presented their research results in front of CMR UW staff. The presentations were followed by a Q&A, which confirmed that we compiled a valuable dataset, which shed light on the specificities of life strategies and choices of V4 migrants living in the UK in the shadow of Brexit and Covid pandemic. The brainstorming brought up new ideas and helped us to see the topic from different angles. The comments and ideas will definitely help us to polish the joint article. We look forward to sharing our results in form of publications with international scholars, so as with the national academic communities.
On 31.01.2023 at 13:00 we invite you to the conference room of the Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw, 7 Pasteura Street (2nd floor) for an open meeting summarising the project ‘The impact of Brexit on migration from the V4 countries: migrant strategies’ (International Visegrad Fund grant no. 21910049). The meeting will be combined with a discussion of an article jointly written by project participants.
13:00 – introduction (Wojciech Bedyński)
13:15 – presentation Poland (Wojciech Bedyński)
13:30 – presentation Hungary (Ágnes Erőss, Katalin Kovály)
13:45 – presentation Slovakia (Petra Strnádová, Jana Pecníková – online)
14:00 – presentation Czech Republic (Karel Čada)
14:15 – 15:00 – discussion on the text of the paper
Title: The impact of Brexit on migration from V4 countries: migrants’ strategies
Authors: PL – Wojciech Bedyński (OBM UW), HU – Ágnes Erőss, Katalin Kovály (CSFK), SK – Petra Strnádová, Jana Pecníková (UMB), CZ – Karel Čada (Charles University)
The outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum came as a shock to European public opinion. The unprecedented situation of the UK leaving the EU structures raised questions and concerns especially in Central and Eastern European countries, from which thousands of citizens migrated to the British Isles after joining the EU in 2004 and the immediate opening of the British labour market. Brexit changed the established status quo and introduced uncertainty. In many cases, it forced decisions that had been postponed for years, and was a motivation to regularise the legal status of residency, which until then, thanks to being in the European Common Market, did not need to be regularised. For some, it was a moment of reflection on their life strategy, including considering the option of returning to their home country or moving somewhere else. Brexit later proved to be just one of the crisis events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine or high inflation across Europe, which also affected migrants’ life strategies. Qualitative ethnographic research conducted by teams from all four Visegrad countries provides a unique opportunity for comparative analysis.
It has been written in many places (eg. “The Guardian,” 9 Sept 2022; “The Economist,” 8 Sept 2022; reuters.com, 8 Sept 2022) that the death of Queen Elizabeth II symbolically closes a certain era in British history. At the same time, the authors pointed out that her reign was already a bit outdated or “of a different epoch.” After all, her 70-year reign, the longest in the history of the British monarchy, connected the year 1952 with the year 2022. The world had changed a lot during that time, just as Britain and its role in the world had changed. When Elizabeth ascended the throne, Britain was still a viable empire, although the process of its decomposition had already begun. At the time, the queen ruled over more than 70 overseas territories, including much of Africa. At the date of Elizabeth’s death, the country had only 14 overseas territories, the largest of which was the Falkland Islands, over which the British fought a war with Argentina in 1982. The British public, in just no more than three generations, had to get used to the change in the role of their country, which ceased to be the center of the world, the empire “over which the sun never sets,” and became again only one of the countries of the Old Continent. This split between Europe and the world, being a local power and a world empire, a strong economy within the European community and a global player – all the time marks the axis of British thinking. Their rejection to join the Schengen Area, rejection to adopt the Euro, and finally Brexit are all expressions of this rift. Britain, even when it was in the Union, stood on the sidelines, more interested in its own internal affairs and those of its shrinking dominion than in European issues. This tension between the local and the global, Europe and the world, was also compounded by the cultural conflict prevailing in British society, which came out very strongly during the Brexit referendum.
During the reign of Elizabeth II, as the British empire declined, migration to the former metropolis grew significantly. The percentage of the island’s population born outside Britain rose from 3.5% in 1951 to 13.4% in 2011, with the number doubling from 1991 to 2011 alone (during this period the European Union expanded to include, among others, the Visegrad Group countries). The history of migration basically mirrors that of the United Kingdom. In colonial times, it was the British who more often went to overseas countries to perform administrative, military or commercial functions there. Instead, residents of neighboring poorer Ireland, experiencing famines in the 19th century, migrated to Britain in large numbers (outside the British isles also). Immigration from non-European areas was marginal. After World War II, the empire began to rapidly disintegrate, but with its end came a wave of migrants from the former colonies to the metropolis. It was caused both by overpopulation and the unstable political and economic situation in the Commonwealth countries (such as the India-Pakistan conflict), as well as post-war shortages in the British labor market. Within a few years of India’s independence, some 60,000 Indians arrived in Britain.
When Elizabeth took the throne in 1952 the migration wave was just beginning. In 1953, only 3,000 residents of the former empire arrived on the island. Three years later, in 1956, it was nearly 47,000, and in 1961 136,400 (ONS). Indians and Pakistanis became the largest groups of foreigners in the British Isles. As of March 2004, out of the UK’s 53.4 million population, just under 1.2 million were born in the European Union (old), another 0.48 million were from other European countries, and as many as 3.3 million residents were born outside Europe. The largest group was Indians, about 466,000, followed by Irish about 458,000 and Pakistanis 276,000. The situation changed in May 2004, when the European Union expanded by new countries, including the large post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In 2015, it was Poles who made up the largest group of 831,000, ahead of Indians (795,000). After the 2007 enlargement of the European Union, when Romania and Bulgaria joined it, the population of Romanians in the UK grew from less than 50,000 in 2007 to 345,000 in 2020.
The immediate opening of the British market to new workers from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004 was explained by, among other things, a desire to welcome culturally closer European workers. The pandemic and Brexit and, in our view, many other factors have reversed this trend. In 2021, for the first time since 1991, more EU citizens left the UK than came to it (ONS Census 2021) – a negative balance of 94,000 people. Immigration to the UK, however, did not decline, as Europeans were replaced again by residents from other continents, including primarily Commonwealth countries. In December 2021, there were 896,000 Indian-born residents in the UK, while the number of those born in Poland dropped to 682,000 (ONS Census 2021).
Brexit, the pandemic, but also the gradual equalization of wages and living standards, as well as other factors, made history come full circle with the death of Elizabeth II, and indeed her passing closed an era, including in the history of migration. The plan to create a United States of Europe, in which Britain would have played a key role, which Churchill had formulated in 1946, was finally derailed in 2016 by the British themselves. Britain, after World War II, has all along been unable to find its way in the new order, and after a prolonged period of apparent rapprochement with Europe, has again turned away from it, going its own way. But the world in 2022 is indeed already different from 70 years ago, when Elizabeth II ascended the throne.
The post written by Ágnes Erőss
„Oh, I’ll give it all up here… I’d rather go to England and wash dishes!” – one could often here such exclamations in Hungary, especially before the Brexit. Indeed, thousands – lacking any clear ideas or job offers – left the country and started employment as bar tenders, waiters, or dishwashers in the UK. Often discourses on migrant workers are dominated by brain waste and downward social mobility (Aziz, K. 2015, Vianello, F. 2014). The case of female migrants is further complicated by the persistence of traditional gender roles or the gender-based discrimination in employment (Fedyuk, O. 2015). However, migration may also lead to empowerment, steps towards emancipation (De Haas, H. and van Rooij, 2010).
When talking with settled Hungarian migrants in the UK, we could also encounter cases of underemployment, and how difficult it is to climb the career ladder in certain professions if someone is not a native speaker. However, in this blogpost we would like to concentrate on the stories of career advancements and – looking at from Hungary, which is characterized by low social mobility – fairy-tale stories.
Izabella was 38 years-old when we contacted her in 2020. She has been living in the UK since 2010. First time she just came to visit a friend, but she decided in a few days to only return to Hungary to sell everything she had owned there and resettled to England. For a year she worked as an au-pair, looking after a relative’s son. However, she graduated as an engineer, she never wanted to work in her original job. Rather she started a night shift in a hotel and worked in parallel several jobs in the next ten years. She always had at least two jobs; the maximum was four part time jobs. In 2015 she started to learn accounting, while in parallel she kept working in a clothing store as a shop-assistant. When the owner of the store learnt that she pursues studies in accounting, he offered her to work as an accountant assistant. During the Covid Izabella could finally graduate, and she has been working as an accountant for the same clothing store. In her account, the support of the boss and a lot of options for flexible hours and part-time employment contributed to her step-by-step career advancement.
Similarly to Izabella, Jakab is also graduated as an engineer. But in contrast to her, Jakab loves his job as engineer. In fact, his dream was to work in the construction of seaports. A dream that he could only fulfil outside of Hungary, as it is a landlock country. When we conducted the interview with him in 2020, he was working for a big engineer company, in a lower position as he had occupied in Hungary. Although he was not satisfied with the position and with the career advancement possibilities at that specific company, he accepted it. He had a firm belief that after gaining practice in one specific field of engineering at that company, and by gaining the British passport, he would be able to move to a different country and work in a position that would better suit his level of expertise.
Finally, let us recall the conversation with Nóra, who was in her late twenties when we interviewed her. Nóra chose a UK university to pursue studies in a special field of art. In parallel, she was working part time in a gallery both to build social capital and to gain practice. For her the migration to UK was not simply a shift between educational institutions, but a shift in lifestyle, and – to put it simply – a change of horizon: from a small town she ended up in the buzz of a cosmopolitan metropole, living the life she had dreamed of in Hungary.
These three cases are only short illustrations of how migration may empower individuals to change, fulfil or advance their careers.
Aziz K. (2015). Female Migrants’ Work Trajectories: Polish Women in the UK Labour Market. Central and Eastern European Migration Review 4(2): 87-105.
Fedyuk, O. (2015). “Growing Up With Migration: Shifting Roles and Responsibilities of Transnational Families of Ukrainian Care Workers in Italy”, In: Kontos, M. and Bonifacio, G. (eds.), Migrant Domestic Workers and Family Life: International Perspectives, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: NY Palgrave Macmillan, 109-129.
De Haas, H. and van Rooij A. (2010). “Migration as Emancipation? The Impact of Internal and International Migration on the Position of Women Left Behind in Rural Morocco”, Oxford Development Studies, 38 (1): 43-62.
Vianello F.A. (2014). Ukrainian Migrant Workers in Italy: Coping with and Reacting to Downward Mobility. Central and Eastern European Migration Review 3(1): 85-98.
The migration wave from the V4 countries to Great Britain, which followed the EU enlargement of 2004, allowed unprecedented numbers of the “new Europeans“, including Slovaks, enter the UK. Like most migrants, they were ready to work hard so as to deserve their chances for a better living, envisioned back in their home countries. From all the interviews conducted in the framework of our project, however, we have learnt that those intended temporary stays were prolonged and have eventually turned into the long-term ones, often with a life-long potential. The reasons have a common subtext: better job opportunities, better remuneration, chances to climb the career ladder due to performance (rather than connections) and to develop themselves in an open, multicultural environment.
On the other hand, these success stories seem to have formed a single factor that is considered the key to the results of the 2016 referendum, when the majority of participants voted for the UK to leave the EU. Although all of the Slovak interviewees agree that the British voters´ decision was wrong, there is a division line reflecting the time of the migrants´ arrival in the UK. This factor points out a significant difference in the views and attitudes to the perceived causes and effects of Brexit, which runs between the young(er) representatives of the migration wave after 2004 and those who emigrated in the late 1990s, or even earlier.
Lulle, Morosanu & King (2017) refer to “liquid migration“ as an offspring of Bauman´s (2000) liquid modernity. Along with the related notion of “rupture“ (Hörschelmann, 2011), the term for a sudden change, and the continuous process of “becoming“ (Worth, 2009) representing youth and young adulthood, they are to help understanding the social and spatial mobility of the young EU citizens, including the Slovaks. All of our interviews proved “becoming“ to be a universal phenomenon, regardless the migrants´ age, time of migration or personal views of Brexit as being or not being the rupture in their personal journeys.
Marshall (2018), Cohen (2020) Wihtold de Wenden (2020) and others to underline the fact that compared to the local standards, “the invaders from the East“ (Marek, 2019) were ready to work for a lower pay and to accept poorer working conditions, which had caused fears of job losses on the part of the locals. In addition, the events of 2016 are the proof that despite the lack of legitimacy of such fears – statistically, the locals were actually getting promotions as a result of the migrant influx, the snowball effect got under way and Brexit had finally happened.
All in all, our research shows Brexit has not altered the migration strategies of the majority of Slovak migrants, especially those from the post-EU-admission migration wave. They do not intend to come back to Slovakia and do not perceive any immediate negative impact of Brexit, while believing that such a “traditional country“ as Britain will sustain and deal with any potential trouble resulting from Brexit. The minority of those who hold different opinions have been presenting their manifold views and experience based on their long-term residence in the UK. These include disillusion regarding the once-believed openness of the British society towards different cultures, as well as an increased perceived value of the Slovak citizenship, even in the eyes of the long-term emigrants. Although not intending to change their legal status, not to speak of the place of residence, they suddenly view their legal/administrative connection to the home country as an important last thread, on which the European aspect of their personal identities is hanging.
©Petra Strnadova, ©Jana Pecnikova (Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia)
It is well known fact that Great Britain exited the European Union on 1 January 2021. „Nothing will change for Hungarians living in the UK after Brexit”, said Iain Lindsay, British ambassador to Hungary before Brexit. He added that the UK has the biggest Hungarian-born population outside the Carpathian Basin and is the second or third largest destination for Hungarian students.
However, it must be noted that EU citizens have lost a number of benefits. Workers now have to comply with stricter residency rules, and they face a heavier administrative burden, which affects around 160,000 Hungarian citizens. Young people are also affected by the changes. Prior to Brexit, the EU banned discrimination on the basis of citizenship and it gave EU students “domestic” tuition status. After Great Britain left the EU, the ban was lifted and EU students were given a new “overseas” status. As a consequence, the conditions have also changed: while the UK was a member of the EU, the maximum university tuition fee was £9250 (EUR 10,200), there was also a reduced student loan and no need for separate health insurance or a visa. Since Brexit, however, they have either been discontinued or their costs are significantly higher. After Brexit the tuition fees can range from £25,000 to £40,000 (EUR 38,000-44,000). Another £348 (EUR 386) for a visa is required, and one also has to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is an extra £470 pounds (EUR 520) compared to pre-Brexit time. Previously, the tuition fees could be covered in total by a student loan, which is now not available and which has been used by 85-90% of the Hungarian students studying in UK.
In the light of the above mentioned it is not surprising, that the number of Hungarian students studying in the UK has fallen dramatically since Brexit. In 2021, 95%!!! fewer Hungarian students start university in the UK than in the previous year. “While in the year 2020–2021, around 705 students were admitted out of around 1,100 applicants, in the 2021–2022 academic year only 450 students applied out of which 190 have been admitted but eventually only 60 began their studies”, told Soma Pirityi, co-founder of the Hungarian Youth Association (HYA). According to him before Brexit 2,500–3,000 Hungarian students studied in the UK each academic year, brought together by organizations such as the Milestone Institute, the HYA or the New Generation Centre with the aim to bring home to Hungary those students who have graduated from top-ranked British universities. HYA estimates that after Brexit this process will be completed, after 2021, a maximum of 1-2 Hungarian students per university will be appear.
The facts described above were confirmed by our interviewee, who graduated from a university in London: “I wanted to do a one-year master’s course, because here a master’s is only one year. So I was of the opinion that one year is nothing, especially after three years, which I have already done….. And so far the tuition fees have been the same as for the English. And for that you had a student loan with very, very favourable conditions. But this has now been abolished….. And that’s why I didn’t enroll for a master’s degree. I think that’s why a lot fewer people come to study here. I have friends who wanted to study here, but they don’t come here anymore. Due to the unfavorable conditions. They either stay in Hungary or go to other countries to study.” (Young Hungarian girl)
Consequently, it can be stated that Brexit has affected not only trade or labour workers, but also university students, which also triggered new social processes in both countries.
A proposal of the new design of the Slovak Republic migration policy up to 2025 was adopted by the Slovak government during its regular session on 8 December 2021 (https://www.minv.sk/?zamer-migracnej-politiky-slovenskej-republiky). Part of the text that is in line with our major concern, i.e. Slovak migrants in the UK and the prospective of their return to the home country as one of the possible consequences of Brexit, refers to the measures that are to be taken in order to attract at least some of the emigrants back to Slovakia.
The document highlights the fact that with regard to Slovakia’s membership in the EU and the Schengen area, the general globalization effects and developments in Slovak society have brought, in addition to some positive elements, many negatives, especially in the form of increased emigration of Slovak citizens, and a significant outflow of skilled labour. This has been happening both in the category of university graduates, as well as in the category of scarce professions. A related big issue is exodus of university students. As a result, the Slovak Republic faces a weakening of its labour market, educational potential, population in reproductive and productive age and subsequent aging, as well as some social challenges redoubled by the lack of quality reintegration programs motivating the return of Slovak citizens.
Priorities of the Slovak Republic in the field of emigration, or the ones aiming to support labour reintegration are, for example, to monitor and analyse emigration flows of the Slovak citizens and of the qualified foreign workers, students and academics successfully integrated in the Slovak Republic, to examine the forms, causes, consequences and negatives of emigration, and to outline estimates of preliminary interest in returning to the country.
What is also considered important is to develop a new comprehensive strategy to reduce the economic, social and demographic causes of skilled labour emigration in the category of scarce professions, as well as in the category of university graduates (permanent departure of university graduates). Other goals include creation of an information-and-consultation platform for the Slovak citizens abroad and evaluation of the effectiveness of the current schemes to make the return to the Slovak Republic and reintegration more attractive to university graduates, as well as taking the appropriate measures improving their functioning. Last but not least, the process of family, social, economic and cultural reintegration of returned Slovak citizens should be facilitated with regard to the specific needs of children and youth.
In the context of our research findings, the proposed measures would only be relevant if the socio-political climate of the country was changed fundamentally. Since the probability for this to happen is close to zero, our estimation of the level of impact of the new policies is also very low. Therefore, our forecast is the outflow will be continued and even increased, especially after the covid-19 pandemic is over.
After almost two years, the British government decided to loosen most of the restrictions introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is no longer obligatory to wear face masks, show covid certificates, or to work remotely. Even compulsory isolation in the event of a coronavirus infection is expected to be removed at the end of March. Great Britain, despite the persistent high number of infections, decided to take this step because the omicron variant turned out not to affect the efficiency of the British health service so much.
From February 11, fully vaccinated people will be allowed to enter the UK without showing a negative test for Covid-19. Traveling between Poland and Great Britain in the era of the coronavirus is still not easy however, and it is Brexit that contributes to this fact. Poland, almost simultaneously with the announcement of the loosening of entry restrictions by the British, decided to tighten the regulations for people arriving from Great Britain. They must show a negative result of a PCR or antigen test, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated or not. Interestingly, the test is not required for those arriving from neighboring Ireland. The main reason is that Ireland is part of the European Union, while Great Britain is counted among the countries outside the EU and the Schengen zone. Polish migrants who want to visit their relatives are still oblidged to get tested and in case of being Covid positive, they are not allowed to go, which means that travels between Poland and the UK are still an uncertain venture.
The pandemic overlapped with Brexit and our research showed that it was difficult to separate the two issues when asking about uncertainty. Often rapidly changing Covid regulations, inability to predict how the situation will look like when we were trying to get back home, fear to get infected, months of separation with families in Poland – all that seemed for most of the time to be more important than trade agreements and the necessity to show the passport at border control. End of the pandemic may start to reveal true impact of Brexit. When people will start to travel more frequently and without fear, they will realise how the new political situation truly impacts them now.
Slovakia is not one of the traditional destination countries for migrants. It is a culturally homogeneous country that has not been affected by the dramatic increase in migration during the 20th century. Until recently, the Slovak Republic was almost exclusively the country of origin of migrants, the country from which citizens migrated abroad for various reasons.
Slovakia’s accession to the European Union and the Schengen area brought significant changes. In the period since 2004, illegal and asylum migration in the Slovak Republic has decreased, and legal migration has increased sevenfold. Despite the fact that the growth of the population of foreigners in Slovakia was the second highest among all EU Member States in 2004-2008, the representation of foreigners in the population – compared to other EU countries – remains at a low level.
Today, foreigners in the Slovak Republic make up 2.75 percent of the population and their number is growing slowly but continuously: in December 2020, there were 6,937 more people living in our country than a year earlier, which represents an increase of 4.9%.
In addition to migration for social reasons, such as family reunification or a migrant’s marriage with a Slovak citizen, the most significant component of legal migration to Slovakia today is migration for work, business and study.
The destination country that migrants choose is closely linked to migration motives. According to various studies, the most preferred target countries are the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Thanks to their advantageous geographical location in relation to Slovakia, Germany and Austria are among the preferred destination countries for migrants from Slovakia.
If we wanted to summarize the effects of migration, then we can say that the positive effects identified include:
– opportunity to travel, get to know other cultures;
– changing social and political attitudes and values;
– building relationships, tolerance;
– increasing self-confidence;
– gaining experience;
– improving language skills and various skills;
– raising qualifications;
– increasing the chances of finding a job on the domestic labor market;
– improving the financial situation.
We consider the following to be negative effects:
– frustration from staying in a foreign country;
– separation from family and loneliness;
– lifestyle changes and the various pitfalls and dangers involved – drugs,