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Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Vol. 34, No. 5, July 2008, pp. 735752
The Migration Industry and Civil
Society: Polish Immigrants in the
United Kingdom Before and After EU
Michal P. Garapich
Focusing on Polish migrants in the UK, this article seeks to emphasise the role of
market forces in immigrants’ pathways to inclusion in the social and economic system
of the host society. The traditional agents of civil society*voluntary organisations,
state policies, the Polish Church or advocacy networks*have, before and after EU
enlargement, been less prominent in responding to the immediate needs of recent
migrants for information, networks and access to host-society institutions, than the
migration industry as such*here understood as a particular sector of the service
economy that stimulates mobility and eases adaptation. These profit-driven institutions
are also in a position of power over information that is being distributed to migrants,
although their sheer outreach has a positive impact on processes of integration overall.
The argument in this article seeks to inform debates in political theory that see political
and market forces as locked in contradiction over the reception of migrants. In fact, the
lesson learned from the story of recent Polish migrants in the UK is that free access to
the labour market is the crucial step towards overcoming the so-called ‘liberal paradox’
of migration politics, and to the successful integration of migrants into their host
Keywords: EU; United Kingdom; Polish Migrants; Migration Industry; Labour Market;
Civil Society
Michal P. Garapich is Reseacher in Social Anthropology at CRONEM (Center for Research on Nationalism,
Ethnicity and Multiculturalism), University of Surrey and Roehampton University. Correspondence to: M.P.
Garapich, CRONEM, School of Arts, Communications and Humanities, University of Surrey, Guilford GU2
7XH, UK. E-mail: [email protected]
ISSN 1369-183X print/ISSN 1469-9451 online/08/050735-18 # 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13691830802105970
736 M.P. Garapich
Introduction: The Migration Industry, Civil Society and the ‘Liberal Paradox’
Migration scholars often find themselves racing against a fast-moving reality. Not
only is their subject of study mobile individuals, but the complexity of migration
phenomena develops quicker than research can follow. The whole mosaic of a
migration system can also be altered within a short period of time by a single
geopolitical event. An excellent example of this has been recent EU enlargement and
the influx of citizens of new member-states to the West. However, one needs to
remember that Eastern European migration and particularly Polish migration were in
full swing before 1 May 2004 (Düvell 2004; Górny and Ruspini 2004; Jazwinska and
Okólski 2001; Morawska 2002; Okólski 2001; Romaniszyn 2000; Triandafyllidou
2006). Poles have constituted a highly mobile and visible migrant workforce for more
than a century in Europe, and the 1990s were not exceptional in that respect (Iglicka
2001: 121; Mach 2005).
In fact, it is often forgotten that the liberalisation of migration restrictions in the
UK began before the enlargement in 2004. The British government’s decision to open
the labour market was presented as an honourable and generous thing to do, but
effectively it was simply a legal manoeuvre to legitimise already-established flows. The
recent influx of Poles into the UK should be regarded as a continuation of a process
that began more than a decade ago. Our preoccupation with the phenomenon shows
a change in perception rather than a qualitatively different reality on the ground.1
But surely something qualitatively has changed since the enlargement? In this
article I will put forward some fine-grained ethnographic data in order to understand
the impact of the EU integration process on the day-to-day lives of migrants,
exploring the dynamics of identity and community construction. I will argue that a
crucial role in that process has been played by the migration industry, understood
broadly as a set of specialised social actors and commercial institutions that profit
directly not only from human mobility but also from effective adaptation into the
new environment. That dual function determines the ease with which individuals
decide to migrate and their relative ability to settle but at the same time to returnmigrate back to Poland. As a result, the migration industry becomes a powerful agent
in setting and reproducing a self-sustaining ‘transnational social field’, understood in
the words of Nina Glick Schiller as ‘unbounded terrain[s] of multiple interlocking
egocentric networks’ (2004: 455). Robin Cohen (1997: 163) defines the phenomenon
of the migration industry in the following passage:
[. . .] despite the rigorous official control of immigration, there has been an
extensive and rapid development of a ‘migration industry’ comprising private
lawyers, travel agents, recruiters, organizers, fixers and brokers who sustain links
with origin and destination countries.
Although implicitly present in literature*the example of padroni in the history of
Italian emigration or the vast literature on human trafficking being the most
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
prominent*the role of the migration industry has not yet been fully acknowledged.
Rubén Hernández-León (2005: 11) notes:
[. . .] previous attempts to systematically analyze one or multiple dimensions of the
migration industry do not appear to have created a long term research agenda
about the phenomenon or generated a lasting interest in theorizing its role in the
social process of international migration. It is a topic woven into migration studies,
but has not taken root either as part of a theory or as a concept integrating a
broader theoretical framework.
The commercial sustainability of migration flows for particular actors has also been
highlighted by John Salt (2001) and in work on trafficking by Salt and Stein (1997:
468). Their focus on trafficking and the informal side of the industry, however, limits
the role of it in other spheres of social life, most notably*as I will attempt to show*
in the formation of new forms of social groups, expressing a new type of discursive
practice and constructing a specific voice of migrants as they adapt to the host
In an attempt to justify the conceptual usefulness of the notion of the ‘migration
industry’, Hernández-León (2005) acknowledges the complex and fluid nature of the
relationship between the migration industry and ethnic economies, the state and civil
society. The ability to cross ethnic boundaries and at the same time to actively be part
of the economic niche is one of the reasons for the success of these entrepreneurial
activities. As the language of commercial interest and the experience of migration of
different cultures and societies become more uniform and widespread, the ability of
the migration industry to bridge cultural, social and state boundaries grows, the
remittances-sending company Western Union being the most favourite example
among scholars. There is thus a fine but sometimes blurred line between promoting
its own business interest and those of one particular ethnic group. However, what it is
important to realise is that many of these agents actively ease the incorporation and
adaptation of migrants into the host society at the same time as helping them to
maintain transnational links with the sending country.
These agents are of particular interest here. Their multiple roles presuppose that
the forces described above, although operating in what scholars would define as an
‘ethnic enclave’ (Light and Gold 2000), do not have to be ethnic or of immigrant
origin at all, or that they can easily switch their interest and field of operations from
one group to another. The often overlooked fact is that growing international
migration has made migrants an important and highly profitable type of consumer.
That consumption depends on a particular activity: mobility, both physical (in terms
of space) and social (in terms of incorporation and integration in the host society).
Enter immigration advisors, tax refund offices, business consultancies, money
sending outlets, banks, travel agents, communication businesses, ethnic media,
recruitment agencies, the ethnic food economy*all these booming economic
activities directly target immigrant populations but do not have to be staffed or
owned by immigrants or members of an ethnic community themselves, or they can
738 M.P. Garapich
be staffed by members of an ethnic group in a very instrumental way (HernándezLeón 2005). The point of distinguishing the ‘migration industry’ from ‘ethnic niches’
lies first in the former’s explicit and direct role in stimulating further flows, thus
becoming an additional pull factor since, through its growing sophistication, it lowers
the risks of migrating. Secondly, by providing jobs it increases the chances of a
successful economic and social adaptation into the host society. Thirdly, its inclusive
nature is important*anyone can engage in the industry. The possibility of
transcending ethnic boundaries makes it very effective in producing so-called
‘bridging social capital’ (Putnam 2000). Whilst ‘ethnic enclave’ presupposes a
bounded, closed entity that works well within one institutionally complete system,
‘migration industry’ is the market face of transnational connections transcending
ethnicity, class and cultures by linking particular localities to the global economy. I
suggest, then, a working definition of ‘migration industry’ as a sector of service
markets that uses human mobility, adaptation in the host country and the sustenance
of a transnational social field as its main resource.
The complex relationship between these transnationally oriented commercial
activities, migrant populations and the host society puts the whole perspective on
integration, civil society and markets on a different footing. One thing that the
booming literature in transnationalism has established is that integration into the
host society is not contradictory to sustaining transnational networks. This is
precisely where the migration industry plays its crucial role. However, the academic
discourse on social integration and civic participation of immigrants and on
processes of construction of associational structures among immigrant groups
focuses mostly on typical agents of civil society: the ‘non-profit’ voluntary NGO
sector, state agency networks or particular diasporic organisations (see eg. Breton
1964; Brubaker 1998; Ireland 1994; Martiniello 1993; Sword 1996). Unfortunately, the
communitarian or voluntary side of processes of construction of civil society, and the
consequent political participation among immigrant groups, are biased towards a
normative, neo-Toquevillian republican philosophy of communal engagement. It
reifies the idea of an homogenous immigrant culture, with shared values and norms.
It does not recognise a whole range of complexities and conflicting identities among
diasporic civil societies, their heterogeneity and internal power relations and crossgenerational struggles. The monopolisation of representation by one segment or the
elites of these groups and in-group power relations (Baumann 1996; Bousetta 2000;
Eade 1989; Erdmans 1995; Garapich 2008), should be constantly taken into account.
We need a better understanding of the economics and power relations underlying
civic engagement and participation of groups, without the cliché of a reified culture.
If we look closer, in fact, the picture dividing the associational life of ethnic groups
from their market-oriented practices becomes blurred and untenable.
In theoretical terms, therefore, the main reason for emphasising the notion of the
migration industry is to problematise the strict conceptual boundary imposed by
scholars of immigrant politics in tending to treat civil society as diametrically
opposed to market forces. As a powerful stakeholder challenging the nation-state
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
(Harris 1996: 135) and developing a dynamic of its own (Castles and Miller 1998: 26,
978), the migration industry is set to destabilise this political view of immigration
which still regards states and governments as the driving forces of international
migration and the main actors in incorporating large populations of migrants. The
methodological nationalism at work here (Glick Schiller and Wimmer 2003) leads
scholarship to dominantly view liberal democracies as locked into a ‘liberal paradox’
where neat categories of ‘political opposition’ seeking closure and control over
immigration are bound to clash with ‘market forces’ pushing borders open (Hollifield
2004). The paradox James Hollifield speaks of stems from inescapable contradictions
built into the way that liberal democratic states deal with mass migration, which
throws up different legal, political and economic rationales.
Since the end of World War II, international economic forces (trade, investment,
and migration) have been pushing states towards greater openness, while the
international state system and powerful (domestic) political forces push states
towards greater closure. This is a liberal paradox because it highlights some of the
contradictions inherent in liberalism, which is the quintessentially modern political
and economic philosophy and a defining feature of globalization (Hollifield 2004:
In other words, the paradox stems from the strong conceptual division between the
political and the economic: ‘Hence the liberal paradox: the economic logic of
liberalism is one of openness, but the political and legal logic is one of closure’
(Hollifield 2004: 887).
However, a closer ethnographic investigation into how market forces, politics and
the migration industry intersect and impact on transnational flows and host societies,
shows a reality which is much more blurred. The economic interdependence creating
new forms of transnationalism is far from being an obstacle to integration and
further participation. In the particular case I am about to discuss, the term
‘immigration’ itself seems doubtful in this context. Different migrants operate within
different legal and market opportunity structures; hence they use different resources
to adapt themselves and integrate into the host society, and this results in different
reactions from the hosts. Hollifield seems to be taking for granted the neat distinction
between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ relationships that states and markets are engaged in
as well as a neat distinction between migrants and natives*as if a substantial
deterritorialisation of space, identities and politics had not taken place in the global
and regional world of today. These neat distinctions are no longer much help,
particularly in the context of the emergent EU space. With the expansion of the EU
area of freedom of movement, the stratification of different kinds of migrants with an
implicit hierarchy of belonging in that space becomes ever more clear. This means
that Hollifield’s political ‘closure’ entails closure for some migrants, but only some*
specifically migrants from particular countries and particular backgrounds. The
paradox seems only tenable if we take these dichotomies for granted, but their
cultural bias is clear. The closure did not happen in relation to Poles who, in the UK,
740 M.P. Garapich
are often (positively) stereotyped in the media as a highly desirable kind of worker
and more trustworthy because of their ‘cultural proximity’ (Fomina and Frelak 2008).
That ‘proximity’ says it all*it assumes the greater the distance that migrants have
travelled, the further away they are culturally.
In order to address the limitations associated with the ‘liberal paradox’ identified
with Hollifield, I take a more anthropological perspective. The migration industry
concept explains and highlights the role that inclusion into a single EU labour market
has had on recent developments among Polish migrants’ transnational networks and
their processes of adaptation and social and economic incorporation. As I will
illustrate, purely commercial and profit-oriented activities of Cohen’s so-called ‘fixers
and brokers’ (1997: 163) have unintentionally resulted in an extraordinary
development in the associational, civic, cultural and social life of Polish migrants
in the United Kingdom.
The data used in this article come from prolonged anthropological fieldwork
among Polish migrant populations in the United Kingdom during the last four years.
The article also draws extensively on an ESRC-funded study among Polish migrants
in London conducted between autumn 2005 and summer 2006. Participant
observation, in-depth interviews and diasporic press analysis were the main tools
of gathering data.
From ‘Illegals’ to EU Citizens
As mentioned before, the migration industry not only oils the wheels of the migration
system between post-communist countries and Western Europe, but it also eases
migrants’ integration, empowering them as social and political participants in host
societies. Neo-liberal economics*the philosophical foundations of the free movement principle*are therefore not only enlarging the pan-EU labour market, but also
expanding the volume of participants in a pan-European civil society and creating a
new class of socially and politically aware migrants.
In their 2002 article, Adrian Favell and Randall Hansen showed that immigration
policies in the EU are being primarily driven by markets, putting in doubt the
commonly held idea of ‘fortress Europe’. If this is the case, market forces should also
play a prominent role in accommodating migrants in their countries of settlement,
thus creating additional niches and ethnic enclaves that cater for new arrivals along
with the more established migrants. The model concentrating on the labour market
and a classical economic rationale does not show the full picture. Once migrants
obtain jobs they have other needs: to socialise, to maintain contact with distant
relatives, to keep religious rituals alive and to reconstruct their identity against the
backdrop of new ‘significant others’. This is all well-known in migration studies but
what the Polish case in the last few years offers is a unique insight into how the
creation of a migration industry, along with the evolution of immigration law, has
stimulated emancipation, incorporation, and new identity formation.
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Advisors and Business Establishment
The Associate Members Agreement between the accession states and EU members,
signed in 1993, stipulated that one of the provisions for entering the labour market
was a right to establish businesses in EU states. It worked differently in each country,
but in the UK, since the late 1990s, it gave Polish migrants a very effective means to
enter the labour market (Düvell 2004). Since the process of establishing a business
takes considerable time and requires a knowledge of bureaucracy, a group of
immigration advisors emerged who quickly (in the years 200004) transformed the
observable patterns of economic and labour behaviour of migrants in their ethnic
economic niche. Most of these advisors began as low-key, back-door, one-person
businesses, often with a single telephone number and private visits at home. They
were rarely professional immigration lawyers but rather people who seized the
opportunity to help others to fill out forms and follow procedures. Within a couple
of years some of them emerged as very important social brokers, employers and
leaders active in the local Polish public sphere.
Previous research on Poles in London during these years predicted (correctly) that
the self-employment schemes contributed to ‘deepening of the infrastructure of
Polish social relations in London’ (Düvell 2004: 24). In fact, I would call this
‘deepening’ a boom in the Polish migrants’ industry. Between 2000 and 2004 around
40 immigration advice offices sprang up in and around London. That process was not
entirely positive though. Castles and Miller rightly note that the migration industry
may exploit migrants as well (1998: 26); some of the Polish advisors quickly
developed into respectable business ventures, others turned out to be run by human
smugglers and organised groups providing migrants with false documents (Garapich
and Bany 2003). A practice of cheating clients was not uncommon and a significant
number of advisors were investigated by Scotland Yard or the Office of Immigration
Service Commission. Some were known to change venues and business names in
order to attract new customers when things went wrong. In winter 2003, for example,
the Home Office contacted the Polish Consular Office to return around 3,000 Polish
passports that were submitted to the Home Office with an application for a selfemployment visa, but which could not be processed due to the advisor’s lack of
licence or simply because the advisor had disappeared. This has not stopped many
other migrants from using the same opportunity en masse. In the years 200104, tens
of thousands of Polish migrants obtained the so-called ‘self-employed visa’ which
allowed them to legalise their presence, work, pay taxes, take out mortgages, and be
free to participate in the social and economic life of the UK. The popularity of the
right of business establishment as an avenue of migration is even reflected by the
Home Office (2003: 15) whose 2003 immigration statistics report notes that:
2003 saw an increase of 151 per cent in the number of persons granted an extension
as a person of independent means or as businessmen to 24,800. . . . Significant
increases occurred in nationals from Poland (up 156 per cent to 9,410).
742 M.P. Garapich
The informality involved in the process is one of the key features of the birth of this
particular sector of the migration industry. Now, liminal and borderland activity is of
course nothing new in economies occupied by a foreign labour force (Kloosterman et
al. 1999). Here, however, the difference is that advisors were in fact easing the passage
from the grey economy into a formal one. From the fuzzy and highly ambiguous state
of being officially tourists, illegal immigrants or visitors (Ruhs et al. 2006), migrants
were channelled towards the legal status of being self-employed. Stretching the rules,
negotiating the law and creating precedence were then part and parcel of that process.
For instance, thousands of identical business plans were produced, the professions
were often purely fictitious*mine as a ‘journalist’ was thus identical with that of
many ‘carpenters’*and advisors explicitly shared with the clients the fiction behind
the whole scheme, blinking their eyes every time the Home Office was mentioned.
The system was ultimately attacked by the right-wing press and the Conservative
Party, and various scams uncovered in March 2004 led to the downfall of the Minister
for Immigration, Beverly Hughes. The scams described in the press concerned the
processes of getting the same visa in Bulgaria. Here the only thing that differed from
the Polish situation was that for Poles visas were issued for someone already in the
UK, not a potential immigrant, so it was more an effective method for switching
migrant status* from tourist or student visa to business visa. Some Polish advisors
were boasting of doing things that were technically impossible under British law. One
of them blatantly advertised his services in the local Polish press as the ‘legalisation of
illegals’*surely a rude shock for any Home Office official who might have read it.
Despite these pathologies and the high degree of informality and bending of rules,
the system worked rather well. It is a reminder, too, that the actual liberalisation of
the immigration regime for Polish migrants took place well before EU enlargement.
What concerns us here is the fact that it gave a huge boost to a group of immigrant
entrepreneurs. Charging £500 a visa, plus extras like arranging National Insurance,
setting up a bank account and Inland Revenue registration, the ‘business-visa’ market
generated millions of pounds for a relatively small group of people.
The New Polish Migrant Media
In the immediate run-up to enlargement, successful advisors already began to realise
that in order to keep afloat they would need to adapt to the new circumstances by
which Poles would be free to come and work in the UK without restrictions.
Hernández-León (2005) lists all sorts of businesses classified as being typical to the
migration industry in relation to Mexican migration to the US, but the Polish case
shows something quite specific. By 2004 a vibrant, highly competitive and expanding
media culture was flourishing on the foundations laid by the immigration advisors’
offices, from which four weekly and one fortnightly magazines are currently
published, each with a circulation of between 20,000 and 60,000. By 2007, one
could count at least a dozen different websites and five internet radio stations
attracting visitors from both sides of the migration chain between Poland and the
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
UK. Adapting to the new environment and to the needs of clients, many advisorsturned-business-consultants created a richly informative media sphere which they
keep either as part of their business or as their main advertising outlets. Other
advisors turned to recruitment or tax advising companies. However, all linked their
activities strongly to the media sphere, which quickly emerged as a public forum
where things could be discussed, news digested and an imagined community formed.
In his classic study of the ‘institutional completeness’ of ethnic communities,
Raymond Breton stresses that ethnic publications are a powerful tool in creating and
developing interpersonal ties (Breton 1964). Newspapers give information which
before was only obtained through informal networks, fuelling situations of
dominance and exploitation. They also formalise and lift the insecurity embedded
in reliance on networks based on informal relations and trust. Media and especially
internet use among migrant groups fulfil an important set of functions, and a
growing body of literature addresses their crucial role in establishing mutual
connectedness and community construction (Georgiou 2002; Hiller and Franz
2004; Karim 2003; Panagakos 2003). Media helps to create not only a business and
marketing niche but*in line with Benedict Anderson’s argument about the role of
the press in forging an imagined community (Anderson 1991), and Robert Putnam’s
about readership as one of the marks of a vibrant civil society and mutual
connectedness (Putnam 2000)*they are actively involved in new identity negotiations, social construction of a group and creating new bonding mechanisms within a
dispersed immigrant population.
However, what is even more important in the case discussed here is that they bind
a group together and give voice to those previously silent and excluded. The diasporic
public sphere has been previously rather dominated by the established Polish
community originating from the time after the World War II (Sword 1996). These
days, Polish migrants can learn from new titles not only how to get a National
Insurance card, find jobs and minimise the risks associated with migration, but also
how to claim benefits, use trade union membership, sue a dishonest employer, or
lobby local politicians. They can also learn about the attitude of British society
towards them, what differences there are between different cohorts of Polish
migrants, how different people identify themselves and generally how to organise
themselves. The public sphere provided by the media has made migrants more selfreflexively aware of differences, similarities and the peculiarities of British life.2
Within a short time, it can be observed that informality, small networks, and a
strong suspicion towards co-ethnics and authorities*features which strongly
characterised the world of Polish migrants in London in the scant past research
done among them (Düvell 2004; Jordan 2002)*are slowly being redefined, evolving
into a much more public, formalised and participatory structure of immigrants’
social space. Due to new market initiatives and opportunities, previously informal
networks are being formalised, publicised and are coming out of the shadows of the
informal economy or underground life.3 But this construction of a new set of
institutionalised networks, commercial advocacies and mutual connectedness did not
744 M.P. Garapich
emerge out of some abstract sense of common heritage, duty towards extended
kinship group, cultural affiliation or essentialist definitions of national identity or
shared common set of values. Rather, it was the migrants’ inclusion in the labour
market which created a niche for agents to ease incorporation and spread
information assisting in fuller integration. To put it briefly, in the case of Polish
migrants, no voluntary NGO could have facilitated migrants’ entry into their host
society better than the media and the underlying migration industry have done. In
fact, traditional Polish ethnic associations and institutions, especially the Polish
Catholic Church, have been rather slow in reacting to and assisting the newcomers.
Such institutions have been more interested in maintaining dominant positions and
their symbolic power (Bourdieu 1989) than offering advocacy, support networks or a
common platform of inter-generational communication (Garapich 2008).
Since, by definition, the market-driven role of new media is to enlarge the circle of
participants, the new media sphere created on the ground by the migration industry
is hugely active in the creation of ‘bridging social capital’ (Putnam 2000), that reaches
outside of the closed circle of co-ethnics. This inclusive aspect of the migration
industry distinguishes it from the typical effects of a migrant niche. The best example
is probably the massive display of common religious identity after the death of John
Paul II, when around 30,000 people marched in front of the Palace of Westminster.
This march had been organised, within a few days, mainly using highly popular
internet chat-rooms and websites. It attracted not only Poles but Catholics in general.
Other important events organised by the papers are the one-day job fairs, events
where around 5,0008,000 people seeking work turn up and meet recruitment
company representatives, trade union officials, local government members, language
teachers and CV-writing trainers. The fairs also often transcend ethnic ties and many
migrants from other mainly Eastern European states also attend. The owner of one of
the magazines, who also runs a business consultancy, recruitment company and
property maintenance company and has a turnover of £3m a year, is actively
marketing his business among other migrant groups: Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Slovaks
and others.
The most prominent example, however, comes from the established British media
outlet that quickly recognised the potential of this particular niche. In February 2006,
the publishers of the weekly TNT magazine, catering previously mainly for
Commonwealth migrants, launched an English-language Fusion magazine: a weekly
targeted at Eastern and Central European migrants. In June 2006, they began to run a
section in Polish. Since TNT is owned by the Guardian Group, it came then as no
surprise that on 21 July 2006 the entire G2 section of The Guardian was devoted to
‘One Million Poles in Britain’, with articles from the Polish editorial staff of Fusion,
features on Polish migration to the UK, and introductions to Polish delis and club
culture in London. As can be seen, it is precisely with its ability to bridge ethnicities,
social classes and consumer needs that the migration industry renders conceptual
divisions between ‘ethnic niche’ and ‘dominant economy’ or between host society
and newcomers irrelevant, artificial and normatively biased. From the point of view
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
of debates on integration, incorporation and multiculturalism, such a public
exposure in a positive light from a leading newspaper far exceeds any government
or NGO campaign. The twist in this is that Fusion went bust after just a few months
of operating. The ambition to address all new member-states’ citizens in English
proved too far-fetched. Crossing ethnic boundaries seems tempting, too, for the other
side. In April 2008 one of the Polish media outlets launched an English-language
monthly addressed to British and European audiences and aimed at promoting
Eastern/Central European SMEs.
Of course both settings*informal networks of migrants and formal, institutionalised forms*find themselves in direct competition. After all, they fight for the
attention of the same people and the power to transmit information that is most
useful to migrants. It puts them in a position of control and this control can
sometimes be abused. Magazines owned by immigration advisors may withhold
crucial information in order to make the client use their services. Some journalists
working at these outlets express their frustration that often the role of information
distribution comes into conflict with the financial interests of advisors, who for
instance charge for helping migrants fill out forms for child benefits. In an
atmosphere of competition, this is condemned by other outlets and sometimes
challenged by the journalists themselves. Nevertheless it is the sheer ability to widen
the circle of participants that accounts for the success of the migration industry:
according to some figures, it concerns a weekly readership of around a quarter of a
million Poles in the UK. With the stimuli of the new media, people with common
interests meet, collective action is planned and a perception of mutual fate is
constructed. They constitute strong grounds for the emergence of a civil society
where social capital is being produced, trust generated and interconnectedness
expanded. This is also a connectedness of transnational character, since magazines
have managed to establish themselves as voices of the Polish migrants back in Poland.
This became clear when one magazine organised an emergency information point
just after the 7/7 London bombings in which, among the many victims, three Polish
nationals died. Thousands of telephones and faxes from anxious relatives in Poland
thus elevated a relatively small magazine to the front pages of the Polish media back
Remittances and Businesses in the Emergence of a New Public Sphere
Companies specialising in sending remittances form a different but highly significant
section of the migration industry. Western Union, along with MoneyGram, has been
crucial in terms of sponsorship in various community and social events: from
religious festivals and arts events to political protests. Among many events these firms
were sponsors of meetings with the leader of the Polish opposition in Poland in
London, Polish rock and hip hop concerts and even a Christian pilgrimage to Laxton
Hall.4 Many of the staff of these businesses are also highly active members of new
746 M.P. Garapich
media or associations, so it is difficult to disentangle the relationship between the
professional activism and civic activism of particular individuals.
All this alters our perceptions of civil society: this is doing business and
‘community’ work at the same time. It is a far cry from ‘the world of voluntary
associations’ as Robert Putnam (2000) sees it; however, the important thing is that
they serve a similar purpose. The role of immigration advisors, job brokers,
newspapers, new media, shops, travel agents, money-sending offices and bars where
migrants meet, may be recognised by some scholars, but they are not always regarded
as institutional settings for creating a grassroots, civic culture. In fact, it is often
forgotten that it is sometimes impossible for an immigrant to participate without the
necessary resources, so people occupying specific social niches have a vantage point
from which to become active leaders. Hence there are people who manage to combine
their daytime work with assistance and active civic participation. Remembering the
role of the famous militants-cafetiers*Algerian bar-owners who were able to mobilise
migrants in France during the 1950s and 1960s (Stora 2004)*we must always, in the
context of immigration, look at alternative forms of participation, even if they look
like pure business ventures.
Scholars of the politics of immigration typically hold the view that integration and
incorporation are the responsibility of the state or host civil society (see Brubaker
1998; Ireland 1994), understood in terms of citizenship or as networks of voluntary
associations*both from the ethnic group as well as the host society. But as migratory
movements within the EU are governed by the expanding free market, of which free
movement is a direct outcome, the processes of immigrant integration and engaging
immigrants in participation on the ground are also strongly determined by market
forces and hence by the economic avenues of opportunities for immigrants to create
their own migration industry.
Extending the role of various civic and commercial advocacy networks as crucial
actors in integrating newcomers to the political and social setting of the host country
may therefore be seen as the other side of the coin of market-driven liberalisation of
immigrant politics in EU member states (Favell and Hansen 2002). In sum, market
structures and opportunities in engaging with the migration industry stimulate the
emergence of political and civic entrepreneurs. In the process of new migrant identity
formation, the ethnic media play a crucial role in the dispersal of information about
employment, legal issues, and political and social rights*for instance by highlighting
issues like the industrial disputes between Polish migrants and Tescos or Woolworths.5 These themes were virtually absent from public debates within Polish
diasporic institutions prior to EU enlargement, despite*as shown above*a large
presence of Polish migrants prior to this event.
The most important and politically exposed civic action undertaken by Polish
migrants using the vehicles of the migration industry was staged during the first half
of 2006. It centred on the issue of a 30-year-old bilateral agreement against double
taxation between Poland and the UK, an agreement that effectively resulted in Polish
migrants having to pay an extra tax in Poland on top of what they paid to the UK
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Inland Revenue. It was a particularly harsh law for people investing in Poland or
sending remittances. The problem came to public attention thanks to the new media.
Within a couple of months of internet and newspaper activity there was a mass
uproar and protests. Stimulated by magazines trying to outdo one another, Polish
migrants signed at least 50,000 petitions to the Polish premier, minister of finance,
the leader of the Sejm and the ombudsman. Leading Polish politicians began to
frequent meetings organised and sponsored in London by the media outlets and
money-sending businesses. Dozens of articles appeared in the Polish press in Poland,
with one newspaper strongly lobbying the government through a press campaign.
The climax came in March 2006 when ‘Poland Street’*a newly formed association
representing Polish migrants, with one leader working in one of the magazines and
another in a business sending remittances*in partnership with one of the magazines,
organised an unprecedented street rally in front of the Polish consulate in London.
Around 1,000 migrants voiced their frustration and anger. The protest gained huge
political and media coverage in Poland and explicit appeals from the organisation to
undertake civil disobedience by refusing to pay the taxes or publicly renouncing
Polish citizenship gained sympathy. It comes as no surprise that the leaflets calling for
the street rally were sponsored by Western Union, with its logo on them: the whole
event would not have happened without the active interest of the migration industry.
After all, the tax law was penalising the most prized participant in the transnational
social field*the circular, transient, transnationally oriented Polish migrant in his/her
late 20s or early 30s who frequently flies home (using travel agents and cheap
airlines), sends remittances (using money-sending offices) and stocks up with Polish
food at Asda (which imports food via Polish wholesalers based in the UK).
Grounding the ‘Liberal Paradox’
In their interviews with Polish migrants in London, Jordan and Düvell noted a
considerable tone of mistrust towards fellow-ethnics. Reporting each other to the
immigration officials, greed, ruthless competition, the practice of ‘selling’ employment, a collapse of sense of community, mistrust: these were common elements
observed. Was this the price Poles were paying for market liberalisation and open
borders, the authors asked? (Düvell 2004: 25; Jordan 2002: 4). But the argument
could be turned the other way. It was essentially the lack of freedom of mobility and
participation caused by immigration restrictions before enlargement that contributed
to Poles’ sense of insecurity and led to these ‘Darwinian’ life strategies. Illegality in
this period impeded not only their job prospects but also their ability to forge ties,
institutionalise their presence, join trade unions, and establish strong economic bases.
These are all things they are doing now in a much less restricted context. The freedom
that came with the open labour market translated itself into freedom to meet,
socialise freely, do business and form communities with an agenda: be it a close-knit
circle of Polish couriers, the Polish gay community getting together, or Polish
mothers meeting their co-ethnics with kids. Freedom from deportation also partly
748 M.P. Garapich
removed the in-built inequalities where fellow-ethnics exploit one another. Nowadays, an average Polish migrant can simply opt out and look for employment
elsewhere, outside the community. The liberalisation of immigration law and the
opening of the European labour market created, as Favell and Hansen state (2002),
‘avenues of immigrant inclusion’ that have not existed before.
This raises important questions relating to the political role that migrants from
former communist countries are set to play in their countries of settlement and their
impact on the democratic process. As the biggest users so far of EU citizenship
provisions in relation to freedom of movement, they are not only reshaping the
demographic and labour map of the EU but also giving a new empirical meaning to
what constitutes having European citizenship. This symbolic provision, as granted in
the Treaty of Maastricht, is taken for granted by citizens of the pre-enlargement EU,
and is often undervalued by scholars as an empty concept (eg. Haynes 1999). As I
have attempted to illustrate, however, for Polish migrants it represented a great act of
empowerment: granting previously denied rights and opportunities that quickly
translated into social participation, self-awareness and political incorporation. Recent
interest in the Polish migrants’ vote shown by Scottish political parties in last year’s
regional elections and by London mayoral candidates this year, or an extensive
recruitment campaign by British trade unions, are cases in point*EU citizenship has
a much more politically resourceful meaning than has previously been assumed.6
More broadly, the role of the migration industry in developing a strong
transnational social field and incorporating migrants is still a largely unexplored
effect of liberal democracies’ policies on immigration. Market-oriented activities of
Polish migrants, embodied in the proliferation and complexity of the migration
industry, have resulted in the removal of vast numbers of Polish migrants from
insecurity, taking them from a state of marginality into a visible public and political
sphere. The migration industry is slowly helping them to negotiate their presence in
the social and political stage of the host society, parts of which increasingly have their
own stake in the industry, as shown by the case of The Guardian, or a recent
campaign by British banks to market special bank accounts for Polish migrants. If this
is the case we may be closer to overcoming James Hollifield’s ‘liberal paradox’. The
contradiction here rests on an assumption of a fixed and non-negotiable boundary
between the state, the market and civil society. As I have attempted to show, these are
not as clear-cut; on the ground, they merge and are mutually dependent.
Hollifield is right, of course, when speaking about the deep cultural unease about
migration running across the Western world. However, this unease differentiates
between different kinds of migrants and is therefore not universal. Different liberal
democracies close their doors to different migrants; hence the paradox is not about
immigration per se but particular cultural traits that are constructed, reified and
stigmatised as difficult to integrate, or un-Western (Stolcke 1995). The inclusion of
citizens of new member-states leads to the exclusion of others. The most recent
reform of immigration law in the UK effectively makes it harder for migrants from
outside the EU to enter Britain. On a more discursive level, praise from the British
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
public for Polish characteristics such as ‘hard-working’ and having a strong ‘catholic
work ethic’ (sic!) seems highly informative. Stressing their ‘cultural proximity’
assumes a hierarchy of belonging, with some being more distant than others.
Hollifield’s state-centric model does not address these distinctions across migrant
groups, linked to differential positions of migrants within the regional integration
Looking at the scene on the ground, we see that market forces are also able to shape
the stage of local politics and civil society through the educational role of the
migration industry, especially the new media which have shown the capacity to
institutionalise and formalise transnational social fields. The paradox seems less
obvious when we look beyond state-centred perspectives and see that the transnational character of the migration industry puts economic liberalism and political
openness into a deeper and more functional relationship than previously envisaged.
The case of Polish migrants and the role of the migration industry in their
incorporation into British society prove that the integration of immigrants and their
emergence as social actors are mutually reinforced by market forces which stimulate
growing mobility and establish a functional and dynamic transnational field. The
expanding migration industry catering to migrants contributes to greater openness of
the policies formed by host states. If more migrants are drawn into the British
financial and welfare system by this, it is not due to specific social policy of the state,
traditional ethnic associations or the Church, but reflects the dynamics of the
migration industry itself. Adopting the migration industry perspective enables us to
look beyond the neat divide of politics and economics, and acknowledge that
economic empowerment remains the first step to successful integration and political
inclusion in the host state. However*and here Hollifield is absolutely right*there is
always someone who is being excluded by the politics of migration. The knee-jerk
reaction of the British government in excluding the extension of similar labour rights
to Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK proves that the paradox is enduring. But it
does not have to be inevitable; there is an alternative model. The lesson learned from
the story of Polish migrants is that free access to the labour market is the crucial first
step towards overcoming the liberal paradox that besets liberal democratic states.
I wish to express deep gratitude to people who shared valuable comments on earlier
versions of this article and helped it achieve its current form, particularly Adrian
Favell, Tim Elrick, Norbert Cyrus and Vron Ware.
For instance 30 per cent of migrants registered in the Workers Registration Scheme in the UK
were in the country before that date. According to Home Office statistics, in 2003, the year
before the enlargement, when migrants’ information networks were already busy in
750 M.P. Garapich
preparation for the final lifting of restrictions, 360,000 Poles crossed into the UK (in 2002
that figure stood at 298,000).
For example, one of the magazines is organising a literature and poetry competition on
narratives about migration experience.
The emergence of a vibrant Polish hip hop transnational culture in the UK or a politically
active Polish gay community are two examples here.
This yearly event is a mixture of religious, sport and youth activities. Laxton Hall is a
retirement home owned by the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales. With the
influx of newcomers, the yearly pilgrimage has become an established and renowned event.
See B 1084 and B
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