She is not a benefits scrounger, or a health tourist, or a prostitute. Ewa is just a Pole who wants to work here and return home

In Krakow, Poland, Cole Moreton meets one of the new EU citizens coming to Britain. She does not intend to stay
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Ewa is nothing like the scoundrels that some newspapers and sceptics claim are preparing to flood Britain. They have been suggesting that those likely to head west now that our borders are open to 10 more European countries are beggars, scroungers or worse. Unlike the newspapers' fantasies, Ewa Zandman is real. She is an educated, thoughtful 23-year-old who will arrive here tomorrow eager to do a job that few of us will touch - caring for, and cleaning up after, the elderly and incontinent - because she wants to improve her English and gain experience. And earn money, of course.

Ewa is nothing like the scoundrels that some newspapers and sceptics claim are preparing to flood Britain. They have been suggesting that those likely to head west now that our borders are open to 10 more European countries are beggars, scroungers or worse. Unlike the newspapers' fantasies, Ewa Zandman is real. She is an educated, thoughtful 23-year-old who will arrive here tomorrow eager to do a job that few of us will touch - caring for, and cleaning up after, the elderly and incontinent - because she wants to improve her English and gain experience. And earn money, of course.

Even on the minimum wage that she will be paid as a care worker in a nursing home, Ewa will get six times as much as she did last week, as a waitress in a vegetarian café in the Stare Miasto, or Old Town, of Krakow in Poland.

That job paid four-and-a-half zlotys an hour. There are around six zlotys to the pound. "If I earned 700 in a month, that would be very good," she says. But sharing a room close to work with her two sisters cost 400 a month. "I have learned how to live simply," she says. "Sometimes I went to the cinema. But not very often." A cinema ticket costs up to 35 zlotys.

Ewa trained as a physiotherapist in Krakow but could not find work. "There is no job for me in Poland. It's quite simple. People need physiotherapy, but the government does not have the money to pay for it." Then in February she saw an advertisement asking Poles to come to Britain under the new rules. "I knew what a carer was," she says. "I worked as a volunteer at a nursing home here. It is a difficult job, but so are many others."

One nursing home manager who was in Krakow last week to recruit workers described caring for the sick and elderly as like looking after a baby "with all the associated dirty jobs, only the baby is 25 stone". There is a shortage of British people willing to volunteer. "I know," says Ewa, smiling. "You don't want to do it. But I know how I would like to be treated if I were sick. And it is perfectly normal for us in Poland to look after our old people, and our families."

Ewa was born and raised in a village south of Krakow. She is unusual in seeking employment away from the British capital. "London is too big and too modern for me. I like beautiful places." She will be working in Torquay, Devon. "I have looked it up on the internet. I think it is beautiful. They call it the English Riviera, don't they?"

She does have a question, though. "Is it dangerous? No, that is too strong a word, but I have seen people on British television who had very strong opinions about the ones who are coming. They were very aggressive." She is reassured to learn they are in the minority. "That is good. I will do my best to be busy, a good colleague and a friend."

Westminster Health Care, a private company which is bringing 60 Poles over to Britain tomorrow morning, expects Ewa to work 48 hours a week. "And more if I want to, which I do. I want to work as much as possible and save money." There are said to be 200,000 Poles working in Britain, but some say as many again have stayed after their permits ran out, working illegally until EU expansion yesterday. Now anyone from their homeland can get on a plane and come to Britain to work - all they have to do is register when they arrive. The Government hopes these tax-paying newcomers will ease out other workers from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, to whom strict permit rules still apply - not to mention providing a legitimate replacement for the many illegal workers without whose efforts the British economy would collapse.

Few of the three million unemployed people in Poland will be coming to Britain, however. Buying a flight in the hope of a job would be a hugely expensive risk in a country where even teachers earn little more than £150 a month. Instead it is the many young, highly educated Poles, people who are struggling to find work to match their skills at home, who will seek new opportunities abroad.

''Expectations are high," says Beata Jezierska, who runs an employment agency in London called Integra Link. "Flights from Poland are booked up until the end of May at least. A lot of people expect to get good jobs straight away, but it's not so easy. Their qualifications might not be recognised.

"I know of a woman who was a nurse for 24 years in Poland but who has been told by the NHS that her qualifications are not recognised and that she must retrain. I also know experienced Polish teachers who are working as plumbers and builders in the UK. They have no experience but they are young and intelligent, and they can learn the skills. People will accept any job in order to earn some money, because salaries for teachers in Poland are ridiculously low."

Bartosz Kaczmarczyk is one of two 27-year-old entrepreneurs who run ITC, their own agency, in Krakow.

"We are sending people to sectors that were previously closed: hospitality, food processing, care," he says. "Most of our carers have masters degrees. They are overqualified. They will finish their finals, go and work for a year abroad, then come back. The deal is good for both sides. We get our people back with language, experience, skills and money. You get the labour you need and you do not have to pay their benefits or educate their children."

The idea of throwing herself on the mercy of the welfare state makes Ewa laugh. "No, no. I will come back. I must. I have my family here, my friends, the places I know. I am sentimentally attached. It is going to be very difficult for me to be apart from all of that for a long time. But I will have my CDs with me."

So when she finishes a shift at the nursing home, Ewa will lie back, play the music of the saxophonist Jan Garbarek and drift away in her mind to the Tatra Mountains. "I go there often, whenever I can." They are one of the treasures of her homeland that she hopes to tell English people about. "Krakow is another. I love this city. And our cinematography and literature. Do you think they will be interested?"

They may be. What is for sure is that most will have less clue about Poland than she does about England. Most of us think first of the shipyards at Gdansk and endless rain, which seems absurd when you sit at a café table in sunshine gazing up at the Gothic spires and towers of Krakow, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe.

"Ben Nevis," says Ewa when asked what comes to mind when she thinks of Great Britain. "And Radiohead, for sure. The beautiful accent - that's what I want to have. Buckingham Palace. And Elizabeth I. She was an extraordinary woman."

Anyone who meets Ewa, or others like her who are coming through legitimate agencies to do jobs that need doing will be forced to question what they have been told about the new Europeans. A benefit scrounger? That's about as likely as an English 23-year-old knowing the name of one of the old Kings of Poland.

WHAT WILL CHANGE?

The enlargement of the EU across three time zones into the territory once occupied by the Red Army has significant and immediate consequences for its 450 million citizens.

For a start,people from the 10 new nations - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta - will be able to seek work in the UK, though there will be restrictions on benefits.

Similarly, Britons will not require work visas in the new member states. However, countries such as Germany and France are barring east European workers for up to seven years, and reciprocal restrictions apply.

Many other changes related to the enlargement have already taken place, such as the liberalisation of tariffs.

With 20 languages now recognised, the European Parliament is destined to become buried in documents translated into all the official languages. The European Commission and European Council, however, will continue working mainly in English and French (with some German).

There have been 25 EU leaders around the table for some time. Now each has a full vote, but they have already been flexing their muscles - last December, for example, Poland helped to block a deal on the EU constitution.

In June the new nations will elect full MEPs to the European Parliament, replacing their current "observers". Likewise in Brussels, ambassadors from the new nations have been sitting in the key committee that marshals EU business, known as Coreper. From Monday they move from the status of observers to formal participants and that is likely to mean more forceful contributions.

As one official put it: "So far, they have tended to keep a fairly low profile - until the topic of Russia is discussed, at which point they all want to speak." But if each national representative makes a two-minute introductory speech at a meeting, it will be 50 minutes before any serious business is done.

Stephen Castle

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