Understanding free movement and migration in the European Union
What makes Poland unique?
Definitions matter in debates about migration, and this is well illustrated by data showing the fiscal effects (the difference between taxes paid and the cost of services and benefits received) of intra-EU mobility in Poland.
At face value, the data appear to show that, while most countries have seen a relatively small and generally positive fiscal impact from intra-EU mobility, Poland seems to have experienced a rather negative impact. But when the REMINDER team looked more carefully, it appeared that the effect may have been caused by the definitions used.
In most cases, researchers suggest that a person’s country of birth is the best way to measure the impact of migrants on public services, partly because while a person can change their citizenship, they can’t change their country of birth. But for some Polish people, their country of birth did effectively change — as a result of the borders of the nation being redrawn after World War II. These changes meant some older people — those born before or during the mid-1940s — may have officially been born in Germany, Ukraine or Belarus, but the regions they were born in are now part of modern Poland. So, these people will show up in the data as ‘migrants’, even though they may have never moved from their place of birth.
Because older people tend to receive more from the state than younger people (in terms of pensions, healthcare and other state support), this means that this particular group of apparent ‘foreign-born EU citizens’ are relatively costly for the state. In addition, Poland has very few younger immigrants, who if present would likely compensate for this effect. These factors are one possible explanation for why the fiscal impacts of intra-EU mobility were showing up as particularly high for Poland.
By identifying the factors that may have led to anomalies or odd results in the data, researchers can control for them and make sure a result doesn’t misrepresent realities.