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Geography: The language of Europe - Migracja zarobkowa w Polsce (Economic migration in Poland)

Geography: The language of Europe

Key questions

  • Where have migrants to the UK come from, and what numbers are involved?
  • What are the positive and negative impacts of Polish migrant workers, and how do they influence British culture and society?
  • Why is there now a ‘flow-reversal', with some Polish workers being enticed back home?

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Space
  • Scale
  • Interdependence
  • Physical and human processes
  • Cultural understanding and diversity

Where have migrants to the UK come from, and what numbers are involved?

A Home Office immigration report published in August 2006 (available from the BBC News website) provides details on the origins, volumes and social/employment data and destinations of migrants into the UK since 1 May 2004 when ten countries joined the EU.

It notes that 447,000 applications were made to the WRS (Workers Registration Scheme) between 1 May 2004 and 30th June 2006. 62% of these were of Polish origin. This was followed by Lithuanians (12%) and Slovaks (10%) and then Latvians, Czechs, Estonians and Hungarians in smaller numbers. Age data also shows that 82% were aged between 18 and 34 years.

In the starter activity, students are provided with a graph from this report, and they must represent the data onto a Europe map using proportional flow arrows as symbols to represent the flow and volume of people from each country into the UK. They must devise a suitable scale for the width of their arrows where a unit measurement represents a certain volume of people. Correctly sized arrows are then drawn onto the map from the countries of origin into the UK to show the relative volumes of people from each place. An example of this type of map can be found on the BBC's KS3 Geography website.

What are the positive and negative impacts of Polish migrant workers, and how do they influence British culture and society?

The issue of migrant workers sparks off controversy and disagreement amongst UK residents. Students should be encouraged to examine both sides of the argument and gain a balanced view of the different opinions. Below are some of the main arguments for and against free movement of workers within the UK:


  • Workers often go into the low-skilled jobs that we shy away from, e.g. catering, domestic, factory
  • By working in our services, they support our service provision
  • Much of the agricultural harvesting work in the UK is carried out by migrant workers
  • According to the Home Office report, only an average of eight per cent of workers brought dependents with them between May 2004 and June 2006
  • With an ageing population in the UK, the fact that 82% of these migrants are aged 18-34 means that they are economically active and are able to make up in part for our tax and pension requirements. It is also suggested that they have helped to boost a waning buy-to-let property market, as they arrive needing instant accommodation
  • According to the Home Office report, only 5943 applications for income support or JSA were made between May 2004 and June 2006, and of these, only 768 proceeded for further consideration
  • Ninety seven per cent of the registered migrants were in full time employment


  • Workers bring with them dependents who then rely on support from the government and put extra strain on our service provision
  • They take jobs that could be given to UK workers. Recent so-called wildcat strikes (strikes without Union authorization) have been caused by protests against the use of foreign over domestic labour. These articles on the Financial Times, Guardian, Telegraph and BBC News websites give an insight into these recent strikes
  • There are criticisms that too many migrants make use of the UK benefit system and job seekers allowance, which British tax payers fund
  • It is claimed that there are up to 100,000 non-registered migrant workers
  • Some people argue that our British identity and culture is being eroded with the influx of foreign migrants, who often settle together in community groups and don't integrate fully into British society
  • It is claimed that much of the money workers earn in the UK is simply being sent back to their country of origin, rather than benefiting the UK economy. This is the basis for this article on the Daily Mail website

Whatever the arguments for and against their being here, there is no doubt that economic migrants from the EU are having an influence on the British high street and our society. More and more Polski shops and cafes are opening in bigger cities such as London Manchester, for example The White Eagle shop owned and run by a Polish immigrant called Tomasz Hornowski (for more information, see this article from the BBC Manchester website). Bars in the bigger cities are also stocking Polish beers and lagers on tap. In the banking world, Lloyds TSB and Natwest both advertise accounts in Polish (Flickr image of Polish advert) and several banks are recruiting polish-speaking advisors to work in their branches. Supermarkets have followed suit, with the big names stocking Polish ranges of produce - this article from the BBC News website has more information on this.

Why is there now a flow-reversal, with some Polish workers being enticed back home?

More recently, there seems to be a reversing trend - the Polish Government is preparing itself for up to 400,000 of the UK migrants to return home in 2009. There are various reasons for this, and the reversing the trend decision-making activity involves students examining these, and prioritising them.

One of the main reasons is said to be the recent economic slump in the UK. The Polish Zloty was once weaker, and there were about seven to the pound. Now the exchange rate hovers around four to four and a half. At the same time, the Polish economy has strengthened - it is set to grow by five and a half per cent this year. Hard-earned savings are no longer worth the same amount as they once were upon the return home. Employment opportunities are better, and unemployment levels have improved greatly from the 20% they were in 2004. The Polish Government has done a lot to tempt their young workers back into the country, for example the promise of construction jobs for the 2012 UEFA championships. In addition, wages have almost doubled since 2004, and continue to grow at about 12.8% per year. Many migrant workers are also highly trained and feel that their skills are being wasted in low-skilled menial jobs here in the UK, where higher salaries are no longer so much of a draw.

Coupled with personal desires to be closer to family and friends, to return to their culture and also to escape the business and crime levels of UK cities mean that working in the UK is not all it was cracked up to be.

The following articles may be of interest:




Starter one: Geography

Into the UK

You will know from last lesson that in 2004, eight new countries joined the EU. You will also know from last lesson that one of the aims of the EU is to allow citizens to move freely between member countries for the purposes of work.

The into the UK starter resource includes a graph which shows the number of people who moved into the UK for work between 2004 and 2008 from these eight new countries.

You will use this information to create a flow map. Follow the instructions given on the resource to create your map.

The EU aim giving citizens the right to live and work in any member country allows freedom of movement and helps people to earn enough money to live on. However, it can also bring with it issues and challenges.

What sorts of impacts (both positive and negative) might this level of migration into the UK bring?
Discuss this question with the rest of your class.

Starter two: MFL

Migracja zarobkowa w Polsce - Economic migration in Poland

In this task, you will learn some of the key terms to do with the topic of migration - in both English and Polish.

Find the key Polish words from the list in the Poles apart wordsearch.

As an extension task, why not write a glossary of the key terms? To do this, write a list of the terms in English and Polish, then add a short description of what each word means.



Home or away?

During the main activity, you will learn about the positive and negative impacts of Polish economic migration to the UK. There are four tasks to complete, either in small groups or individually. Ask your teacher how you are going to complete the tasks.

You will record the information you find out from each task on the home or away worksheet.

Task one: Divided opinion

In the divided opinion card-sort task you will find out about the range of opinions that people have about Polish economic migration to the UK. Some of the views are positive, some are negative. Sort them out and list them in the table on your worksheet.

Task two: Hitting the headlines

Read this article from the BBC News website and complete the statements given on your worksheet.

Task three: Poland hits the high street

Look at the images and statements on the Poland hits the high street resource sheet. Match the images to the statements and complete the table on your worksheet.

Task four: Reversing the trend

Imagine you are a Polish migrant worker. You came to the UK in 2006, but you are now considering moving back to Poland. What might be your reasons for moving back? Complete the diamond nine activity (Reversing the trend) by putting the suggested reasons for your move back to Poland in order of how important they are to you. You can write your own statements if you prefer. Record your decisions on your worksheet.



Class contributions

Feedback to the rest of the class on the activities that you have just completed.

  • What are your thoughts about migrant worker in the UK?
  • Do you agree with the EU's policy on freedom of movement for work?
  • What are the positive aspects of this policy?
  • What are the negative aspects?

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