Sixty reasons why Britain needs immigrants

Next month's expansion of the EU will see scores of young, highly educated Poles arriving in Britain to do jobs we don't want to do. Jeremy Laurance went to Krakow to meet the workers who could transform our care homes
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The Independent Online

On the morning of Monday, 3 May, an Air Polonia flight from Warsaw is due to land at Stansted airport carrying a group of 60 young, highly educated Poles hired by one of Britain's biggest care home companies.

On the morning of Monday, 3 May, an Air Polonia flight from Warsaw is due to land at Stansted airport carrying a group of 60 young, highly educated Poles hired by one of Britain's biggest care home companies.

Most have university degrees and have worked as teachers, social workers, psychologists and physiotherapists but they are coming to Britain to do jobs regarded as so menial, so unpleasant, so infra dig that British workers cannot be found to take them on. It is called looking after the elderly.

Jola, Eva, Robert, Jerszy, Kate, Magda, Sebastian and their compatriots are the vanguard of what some fear will be an invasion of the UK by tens of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe as Poland and the other nine accession states join the European Union on 1 May.

With the Government convulsed by the latest immigration scandal which has claimed the scalp of the minister Beverley Hughes, anti-immigration groups and right-wing commentators have painted a lurid picture of scroungers and beggars set to rush ashore the moment the barriers to legal entry are lifted, in order to fleece Britain of the meagre benefits it has to offer its own people.

They have warned that our cities will be flooded with foreigners who will take our jobs, occupy our houses, overwhelm the NHS and claim the benefits paid for by our taxes.

Yet no one who takes the trouble to meet these people could come away with this impression. Aleksandra Przybos, 24, has an MA in social work gained after five years of study at the University of Krakow. Now she hopes for a job in Britain where she will be paid at or just above the minimum wage of £12,200 for cleaning up incontinent elderly people.

"It is so difficult to get a job in Poland. I would like to be a university lecturer and my dream is to do a PhD - but it is expensive to study. I know it will be hard but I think I am a flexible person. Hard work is always good for you and I would like to improve my English and learn about a new culture. There are so many stereotypes about the English."

In Poland, she works as a classroom assistant in a state school, for which she is paid 1,000 zlotys a month [£140] - a standard salary for a carer. By taking a similar job in an old people's home in Britain, even though she will be paid the minimum wage, she will increase her income to at least £1,000 a month.

She responded to an advertisement in the Polish press placed by a local recruitment agency, ITC, which is sending Poles to 30 countries around the world. International demand for Polish workers is booming, and to even the fleeting visitor it is easy to see why.

Polish society is more deferential and less abrasive than the richer nations of Western Europe - more like the Britain of the 1950s. With 20 per cent unemployment and a reputation as a conscientious, kind and educated people, Poles are delivering care that Westerners no longer wish to give.

Bartosz Kaczmarczyk, one of the two 27-year-old entrepreneurs who set up ITC, is scathing about the exaggerated predictions of the number of immigrants who will come to Britain from the accession states after 1 May. The Home Office estimates 13,000 but others say the figure could be 10 times higher. "There are already 500,000 Poles in Britain illegally. There is not going to be a flood of new people because they are already there. And Poles always come back," he says.

Aleksandra is one of his latest recruits in a group of 70 applicants being put through their paces at the Hotel Justyna, near the centre of Krakow. She is feeding yoghurt to a blindfolded colleague, simulating a bed bath for another and learning the intricacies of fitting incontinence devices. Westminster Health Care, which runs 88 homes in Britain and is in urgent need of carers, is running the course and has block-booked the 60 seats on the Air Polonia flight on 3 May to bring in the successful candidates.

They will be given free accommodation for the first three months, a free return flight after a year, and a free facility to send money home. Their contribution is a deposit of 500 zlotys [£70], returnable after three months.

"I will be a little bit sad and lonely away from home - I think it is normal. I don't have a boyfriend now. It makes it simpler to go even though there are some boys who will probably miss me. I call my parents three times a week. More when I am homesick - all the time," Aleksandra said.

In Krakow, she lives in a spotless three-room flat in a greystone, walk up tenement with five female friends, sharing a room with her best friend Catherine. Her mother, a book-keeper and her father, a retired market gardener, live in Bieszczady in the mountains to the south-east and are anxious about their eldest daughter leaving Poland. Apart from a six-month spell studying in Sweden, Aleksandra has never been abroad.

"Parents always worry. But my younger sisters don't care - they want to visit me in England."

Although she is looking forward to the job, and the extra money, she is worried about how she will be received. Like most of Westminster's applicants she knows there is opposition to immigrants in Britain - despite their readiness to do the least desirable jobs.

Chris Mead, director of Christopher Martin Associates, who is in charge of the British end of the Westminster recruitment operation, said: "We get very upset at headlines in the Daily Mail saying these people are coming to take our jobs. They are not - they are coming to do the jobs no one else wants to do."

He describes an old people's home in Norfolk which suffered a recruitment crisis when a Sainsbury's superstore opened nearby and offered staff 50p an hour more to stack shelves.

"Stacking shelves you've got no worries about bed pans, nothing messy to cope with. The home lost 15 staff and could have had to close," he said. The home got through the crisis only with the help of overseas staff.

Westminster has sent seven managers to run the week-long residential training course at the Hotel Justyna where the applicants are taught how to undress patients, how to help them choose what to wear and how to talk to them without talking over them.

They say the attitude, motivation and standard of work of the Poles puts their British counterparts in the shade.

"The staff we get in Britain do the job because it is convenient, because it fits in with picking the kids up from school or until they can get a job at Tesco's. There is a general lack of commitment," one manager said.

"Here, they have got to think about what they are doing [in coming to Britain] and why they are doing it before they come. There is a different work ethic and many see it as a new adventure. There is almost a pioneering spirit," said another.

Poland is a Catholic country in which families look after their elderly relatives, and consideration for others is a national characteristic. "This is a courteous nation," Terry Tucker, a training director at Westminster, said.

But as well as being warm-hearted, they display a stoicism which is unfamiliar in Britain. Some are preparing to leave spouses and children for a year or more in return for the chance of a better life. There is iron in their souls.

Piotr Nowak-Maler, 28, a primary school teacher, wants to save enough to get married but still has to persuade his fiancée.

"She is crying about my going away but I told her it is only one or two years. For us in Poland this job is well-paid. I know living in England is expensive but it is very difficult to save in Poland. To be sure about our future we have to have some savings for the black moments."

Margaret Nogiec, 40, a translator who established a centre for the homeless in Krakow, will leave her husband and 15-year-old daughter behind in order to raise enough money for a car. "I have a good heart. My husband is not jealous and my daughter likes him better than me. It is good to help people and I think I will save £300 a month."

Teresa Kapera, 34, hopes to return with enough money to buy a larger apartment than the one she now shares with her sister near the famous Rynek Glowny [main market square] in the centre of the city. "I will be very glad if I bring back 50,000 zlotys (£7,000)," she said.

But Marcin Cag, 29, who works in a home for boys with learning disabilities, is interested in travel, football and music. He wants to know whether on the salary he will be paid he will be able to see Arsenal play and attend the next concert by the band, Limp Bizkit. "It's only for one year - we can survive. We are still young and we have a lot of time," he said.