Image: Eastern Europeans scan adverts in London.
Jennifer Carlile  /
Eastern Europeans scan accomodation and employment adverts in a convenience store window in Hammersmith, West London.
By Jennifer Carlile Reporter
updated 5/7/2004 2:26:17 PM ET 2004-05-07T18:26:17

On a West London street corner a crowd scans hundreds of job and housing adverts taped to a convenience store window.

With signs posted in several languages, one young woman types into her hand-held Polish/English translator, as the men beside her converse in Slovak.

Since 10 mostly Eastern European countries joined the European Union a week ago, citizens of the new member states have moved to the British capital to earn their tiny share of riches in this wealthy city.

But, as fresh arrivals optimistically hunt for employment, some fear that the influx of labor will lead to their exploitation, or force them to return home.

“I am very happy Poland came into the EU,” said Iwona Glos, who arrived in London from the Polish city of Pulawy on Tuesday. “It is a chance for many people of the ten countries,” she said in broken English.

Image: Polish woman who just moved to London.
Jenifer Carlile  /
"I am very happy Poland came into the EU,” said Iwona Glos, who arrived in London from the Polish city of Pulawy on Tuesday. “It is a chance for many people of the ten countries."
“I hope that if I learn English fluent, I will find a good job and be happy here,” the 26-year-old said, as she looked over the advertisements for jobs in restaurants.

Based on a 40-hour work week, the monthly minimum wage in Poland is the equivalent of €177 ($210), while in the United Kingdom it is €1,125 ($1,337), according to The Federation of European Employees. Given the disparity in basic wages, Glos was willing to give up her white-collar job in the insurance industry to try her hand at waitressing in London.

With a population of over 38 million, Poland is by far the largest of the ten countries that joined the EU on May 1, and has seen the greatest migration of its people across the English Channel.

Like Poland, seven of the other new EU countries previously fell under the Soviet umbrella: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The other two new members are the Mediterranean island states of Cyprus and Malta.

Visa requirement slashed
Although the United Kingdom has put restrictions on new members seeking to live within its borders, EU ascendancy has made it much easier for many Eastern Europeans to move here — the main benefit being the simpler entry requirement.

The European Union“I came here last year in March and worked illegally in a restaurant as a waiter,” said Franciszek G., who asked that only the first initial of his last name be used.

A former estate agent in the Polish village of Gliwice, he said that his under-the-table salary in London was too low to afford the high cost of living in the British capital.

“But now it is completely different; you can work here legally so it’s very good for us,” he said.

Image: Pole living in London.
Jennifer Carlile  /
"We were waiting for this day, this coming into Europe," said Marek Wojuk, a Pole who has lived in London for five years.
Another Pole, 28-year-old Marek Wojuk who has lived in London since 1999, said, “I feel more safe, better now. We were waiting for this day, this coming into Europe.”

Despite British tabloid headlines citing a feared “invasion” or “flood” of job and, paradoxically, welfare-seeking immigrants, Wojuk said the “welcome (Eastern Europeans receive) from the British people will be better now.”

Window shopping
“Hundreds come here and look at a shop window for future direction,” said a 52-year-old Polish accountant who has lived in London for 20 years.

“It is very sad — two hundred buses come a week and these people have no guide, no information before they leave Poland or the other new EU countries,” said the accountant who asked not to be named.

She said that although “it all seems very bright,” only the few who are very well educated, speak English fluently, and have good contacts and resumes will be able to benefit from working in Britain.

“But, overall most of these people will be going back,” she said.

Image: Polish accountant in London
Jennifer Carlile  /
"Hundreds come here and look at a shop window for future direction," said a Polish accountant who has lived in London for 20 years.

Located beside the well-known Kings Convenience Store in Hammersmith —where the advertisements are posted — is the city’s main Polish Cultural Center.

Although it boasts the largest Polish Library in the world outside Poland, the accountant said it lacks the services new immigrants need most, and that there isn’t a single Eastern European Web site with listings of accommodation and employment in London.

Pointing to ads reading: “Girls wanted, models required, and massage” and “Attractive Escort Girls 21-45, up to £2500 per week,” she said she fears that the influx of immigrants could lead to their exploitation, with women falling into prostitution and men working as underpaid physical laborers.

Drawing attention to how tight the job market is for non-English speakers, she translated an advertisement written in Polish in which the person who posted the advert was seeking to sell her job as a cleaner.

“I think (London employers) have so many people now that it’s a problem — it’s a problem for people from new EU countries looking for job,” said Peter Kovac, a 26-year-old who arrived in London on Monday after a 20-hour bus ride from Priadza, Slovakia.

But, despite his worries of a flooded market and minimal English language skills, he was awaiting a second interview with a well-known sandwich shop.

13,000 more expected to arrive each year
Britain’s Home Office expects up to 13,000 people to enter the country every year as a result of EU enlargement.

Preparing for more arrivals, a new Polish Office is under construction in Hammersmith.

“There’s quite a lot of Polish offices around but perhaps we will still manage to have business and help Polish people,” said Mieczyslaw Michalczyk, whose office will help Poles get their basic U.K. documents in order.

Image: Polish man who opening a Polish office in London.
Jenifer Carlile  /
Polish people "are hard working and they want good jobs and to make good money," said Mieczyslaw Michalczyk, who is opening a Polish office in Hammersmith, West London.
Michalczyk, who has lived in London for 17 years, said he believes that Poles, who have lived with capitalism for 15 years, are well suited for Britain’s competitive job market.

“They also have to fight for jobs and everything in Poland,” he said.

Although the British government is not allowing citizens of the new EU countries to receive welfare benefits, “Polish people don’t want that anyway – they are hard working and they want good jobs and to make good money,” he said.

“They don’t want 40 or 50 pound ($71-89) a week handouts.”

While their first days in a foreign country, albeit a fellow EU state, may not be easy, the new arrivals appear to be taking the difficulties in stride.

Franciszek G., who had worked illegally as a waiter in London last year, arrived with a friend at London’s Victoria station the day Poland joined the EU.

The pair immediately found a board advertising accommodation, called around, and moved into an apartment that day.  Having secured a job paying £5.25 ($9.37) an hour cleaning Underground Tube stations and trains, he shrugged off suggestions that London life was hard, saying: “It is enough for now, there is no problem so far.”

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