Beginnings of the Polish-British migration
The history of Polish-British migration relations is relatively short. It was not until the end of the 19th century that a phenomenon that could be described as a migration wave took place. Of course, Poles have been traveling to Britain for hundreds of years, but never before on such a scale.
First Polish migrants to the United Kingdom
The 19th century migration wave did not concern Polish citizens (Poland as a country did not exist back then). The migrants, from what used to be and is the territory of Poland, were mainly Jewish of Polish origin, and it was caused by the anti-Semitic policy of the Russian Empire, which took place between 1881 and 1884.
The main direction of emigration at that time was the United States. However about 200 thousand people came to Great Britain and settled down mainly in East London. At the same time, difficult economic conditions were an additional reason for the migration of workers from Galicia and Silesia, mainly miners and shipyard workers. This led to the establishment of the Polish Catholic Mission – also in East London.
World War II migration to the UK
During World War II and shortly after it, the United Kingdom became an asylum for the Polish government, whose members arrived here from France in 1940. The Polish Government in exile in the United Kingdom functioned until 1990 when the first Polish democratic elections took place!
Why was this wave of emigration so numerous, when the Polish government consisted of no more than a dozen people? Along with it, nearly 30 out of 85 thousand Polish soldiers came to the UK. These were soldiers who formed the Polish Army in France. It was these soldiers who fought in the aerial Battle of Britain in the fall of 1940, which held „Operation Sea Lion” – the German invasion of the British Isles.
This was not the end of the wave of wartime emigration, which culminated in the arrival of over 200 thousand Polish citizens, mostly military personnel and their families, who by 1947 found themselves in Great Britain. Some of them (about 100 thousand) returned to Poland, some emigrated further, but about 150 thousand people remained in England permanently.
Migration of Poles to the British Isles after the war
After World War II emigration of Polish citizens to the West was much more difficult, but it does not mean that it didn’t take place. Many people holding Polish citizenship found their way out of Poland, mainly due to harsh conditions of living in the communist country and repressions of the communist government towards its citizens.
The breakthrough came in 1993 when the visa requirement was abolished, and then in 2004 when Poland joined the EU. After 2004, not only Poland, but the whole European Union and beyond, entered the era of freedom of movement associated with unlimited possibilities and great flexibility of living within the European Union state countries territories.