Anthropology: Exploring the Increase in Poland’s Public Acceptance of Migrants

As the world grows less accepting of migrants, with a number of European Union countries topping the list of the less-accepting countries in the world, Poland’s attitudes towards migrants are improving. In recent years, Poland has experienced the highest levels of immigration in its history. Immigration to Poland has been among the highest in the European Union. Between 2017 and 2018, Poland has issued more first residence permits to immigrants than any other EU member state. 

According to the Migrant Acceptance Index by Gallum (the global analytics firm), between 2016 and 2019, the global score on the index on people’s acceptance of migrants declined from 5.34 to 5.21. However, in some countries, such as Poland, the score has increased from 3.31 to 4.21 between 2016 and 2019. In this article, I am going to explore why Poland’s attitudes towards migrants are changing, and why studies on migration are important for social sciences. 

What is migration and why do people migrate?

Migration is defined as the “movement of people over some distance and from one place of residence to another” (Kok, 1999). Therefore, people who leave their country are said to emigrate. People who move into another country are called immigrants. Meanwhile, the movement of people into a country is called immigration.

Thus, migration is a normal human activity, as people have always moved from one place to another, they have always migrated from their homes, families, or guardians to different regions, cities, towns, or countries.

However, migration is considered a social issue, because it has an impact on the host society as well as migrants themselves. Migrants are a diverse group that includes economic migrants, students, refugees, and asylum seekers. Therefore, the relationship between society and migration is complex. The social problems of immigrants and migrants include poverty, acculturation, education, housing, employment, and social functionality (Dail, 1988).

People migrate for various reasons, known as ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. Push factors drive a migrant out of their country of origin. They include war, poverty, hunger, political instability, economic depression, discrimination, and so on. Pull factors attract migrants towards a particular place, and include employment opportunities, study opportunities, quality of life, family members, political and religious freedom, and so on.

Anthropology of migration

Black and white image of six silhouette of migrants walking up the hill t

The study of human migration was not a focus in anthropology until the 1950s. Anthropologists argue that the migration of the human population has always existed. It has been found among prehistoric hunters and gatherers, ancient civilizations, and continues to exist all around the world. Anthropology contributes to the study of contemporary migration flows by exploring many complex aspects of migration processes. Anthropological research collaborates with other social sciences studies, such as cultural studies, economics, history, political science, sociology, geography, and legal studies.

Implications of immigration in society

There are various advantages and disadvantages of migration. It has implications on the country from which people are emigrating, as well as on the host country.

A society that is losing people due to emigration can face problems such as the reduced size of the country’s potential workforce, gender imbalances, because men tend to be the ones who seek employment elsewhere. Meanwhile, children and women are left. In addition to this, as many skilled workers leave, there is a problem of ‘brain drain’. However, the advantages of people emigrating are that money is sent home by migrants, there is a decreased pressure on jobs and resources and migrants may return to the country with new skills.

In regards to the host society, there may be new problems due to immigration, such as overcrowding, increasing cost of services such as health care and education, and conflicts or disagreements between different religions and cultures. However, immigration enriches the host society and creates more diversity in its culture, helps to reduce any labor shortages, especially in relation to low-paid, low-skilled jobs, that migrants are more prepared and willing to take.

Overview of public attitudes towards immigration

Attitudes towards immigrants and immigration are rooted in individuals’ values and worldviews. They are relatively fixed but can be shifted by external factors. According to Gallup, around the world, few countries want more immigration. The world, in general, is growing less accepting of migrants. The countries that were the least accepting of migrants in 2019 include several European Union member states, such as Hungary, Croatia, Latvia, and Slovakia. In addition to this, Thailand, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey were the countries with the lowest scores on the Migrant Acceptance Index. The countries that were most accepting of migrants in 2019, include the United States and Canada, Iceland, and New Zealand.

The attitudes towards immigration and the acceptance of migrants have been reflected in the burden that some countries took back in 2016. For example, Turkey’s low score on the acceptance towards migrants index is likely to be influenced by the fact that the country hosts an estimated 4 million refugees and migrants in its territory.

People are unsure whether immigrants enrich their economies. The 2018 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that majorities in 10 of the 18 top migrant destination countries (including the US, Germany, UK, France, Canada, and Australia feel migrants have made their country stronger. Together, these ten positive countries host 40 % of migrants worldwide. According to the Lowy Institute (2019), 65% of Australians feel immigration has a positive impact on the economy. On the other hand, Ipsos (2017) found that only 28% of 25 countries surveyed felt immigration is good for the economy. However, even those who believe that immigration enriches the economy, think that locals should be prioritized over immigrants for employment. One of the main reasons why people oppose immigration is that they fear job loss or wage competition.

Many people feel that immigrants are putting pressure on social services. According to Ipsos (2017) Immigration and Refugees Poll, 49% of people around the world agree that ‘immigration has placed too much pressure on public services in our country. Meanwhile, 27% remained neutral. In addition to this, people in Europe and the US believe that immigrants believe that besides work, immigrants come ‘to seek benefits’ (41% in Europe, and 45% in the US).

Moreover, according to the 2016 ESS, people are more likely to prefer migrants who are culturally similar to themselves, and they are likely to be opposed to immigrants of a different race or ethnicity. People fear that immigrants will undermine the traditional language, religion, or way of life of the host society. However, this attitude varies between countries. Spain and Sweden have been found to be more positive than Hungary, Israel, and Greece. According to Blinder and Richards, 2020, the UK prefers white, English-speaking Europeans from Christian countries, rather than non-white, non-Europeans from Muslim countries.

Finally, people prefer refugees over immigrants. 71% of the 18 countries surveyed by the 2018 Global Attitudes Survey supported taking in refugees fleeing violence and war. An average of 50% supported more or the same number of immigrants moving into their country.

Understanding why Poland’s acceptance of migrants is increasing

There are various drivers of public attitudes towards immigration. People’s attitudes are influenced by their own personal characteristics, such as their age or gender, their life experiences, values, and surroundings. People living in neighborhoods with a high number of migrants will have different attitudes towards them than people who live in neighborhoods with no migrants. In addition to this, our attitudes are driven by ‘contextual factors, such as government policy, politics, media narratives, and so on.


Black and white image of 13 Polish refugees sitting on the grass in Africa
A group of Polish refugees who spent WW2 in Africa (

Poland showed an attitude of openness before 2015. Because of its geographic location between Eastern and Western Europe, Poland has served as a transit country for migrants. Until the Second World War, Polish cities such as Lodz, were filled with different cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities. Such cities were considered “the promised land” by immigrants. For a large part of the 20th century, Poland struggled with a lagging economy and the destruction of war. As a result of this, the country was left by over 1 million Polish refugees and migrants, looking for a better life in Western Europe and the United States. Some Poles emigrated to as far as Africa to seek sanctuary.

Poland developed into a destination country for migrants predominantly from neighboring Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia and from other countries of the former Soviet Union.  According to Bishop Krzysztof Zadarko, who worked on behalf of the Catholic episcopate to pressure the Polish government to create humanitarian corridors, “Poles have a deeply encoded moral obligation to help the weakest”. Therefore, when they are not influenced by ideology and propaganda, this sensitivity is reactivated.

Politics and media narratives

A color image of a Polish politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaking to a crowd of Poles
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Law and Justice party leader (

Poland recorded one of the biggest increases in acceptance of migrants, between 2016 and 2019, among 140 countries. According to Gallup, the anti-refugee sentiments hardened between 2015 and 2017, after Europe saw waves of refugee migration. During that time, 63% of Poles opposed accepting refugees. Back in 2015, the refugee crisis was one of the leading issues in the political elections in Poland. After the Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power, the ruling party expressed opposition to the arrival of refugees. Meanwhile, the media showed crowds of refugees storming Europe.

In 2017, in an interview with a Catholic television station, Poland’s Prime Minister said “we want to reshape Europe and re-Christianize it”. Politicians, such as Pawel Chorazy, have been criticized by the ruling party after saying that “the inflow of immigrants to Poland needs to be increased to sustain economic growth”. Chorazy was later fired.

The Polish government continued to refuse to accept refugees and used public media to bring more fear of refugees. Despite the fact that Polish workers have migrated to other countries, such as the United Kingdom, leading to labor shortages in the country – politicians were warning that immigrants are storming Polish borders and taking jobs. After the political elections, the topic of immigration and the refugee crisis has been pushed into the background, and the public is no longer influenced by politics and media narratives.

Life experiences

color image of four immigrants from Asia having a break at work in Poland

New inflows of groups with a different language, religion, or culture may be perceived as threatening to the existing way of life of the host population. Therefore, the unfamiliarity of immigrants can lead to hostility. However, Social Scientists have introduced various theories which predict that greater day-to-day contact with immigrants may either increase or decrease the perceived threat posed by immigrants. Today there are over two million immigrants living in Poland (making up 5% of the population). Moreover, work permits for immigrants increased by 35%. With increasing numbers of immigrants from Ukraine and Asia. As a result of this, Poland is no longer almost ethnically pure like it was a few years ago. One of the reasons why Poland is more accepting of migrants could be because Poles now have good experiences with millions of immigrants, which makes them more open to foreigners who have different beliefs and values than Poles. Despite the government’s efforts (through policy) to limit the influx of immigrants to only Christians, Poles are now growing more accepting of immigrants who are not “culturally similar”, because they have the chance to experience working, studying, or living with them.

Cultural significance in Anthropology

The study of migration as a whole is important for understanding various aspects and issues of different societies. Anthropologists explore the relationship between culture and human migration and contribute to the complex understanding of migration processes and their effects on people and larger societies. They do it by opinion polls, as well as more in-depth studies.

Attitudes towards immigration are one of the most researched areas of public policy. The flow of migration can change relatively quickly, depending on economic circumstances, changes in policy, or other changes (for example the accession of states to the European Union). Similarly, people’s attitudes towards migration can change just as quickly. By looking at changes in public attitudes and acceptance of migrants, social scientists are able to explore different cultures and issues and the implications of those issues on individuals and societies as a whole. This, in turn, can contribute to the introduction of appropriate policies.

Migration as a whole is a complex issue, with no single definition. Poland’s (and other countries’) increase in public acceptance of migrants is another complex issue that is impacted by various factors. To comprehend it, social scientists have to look at the history,  culture, politics, and geography of the country.


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Card, D. et al Understanding Attitudes to Immigration: The Migration and Minority Module of the First European Social Survey. London: Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration 03/05

Dail, P W. (1988) Immigration and Migration in America: Social Impact and Social Response. International Migration 26 (4). 441

Esipova, N. et al (2017) New Index Shows Least-, Most-Accepting Countries for Migrants. Available:

Esipova, N. et al (2018) Revisiting the Most- And Least- Accepting Countries for Migrants. Available:

Esipova, N. et al (2020) World Grows Less Accepting of Migrants. Available:

Duffy, B. and Frere-Smith, T. (2014) Perceptions and Reality: Public Attitudes to Immigration. Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute. Available:

Kok, P. (1999) The Definition of Migration and Its Application: Making Sence of Recent South African Census and Survey Data. SA Journal of Demography 7 (1), 19

Santora, M. (2019) Poland Bashes Immigrants, but Quietly Takes Christian Ones. Available: Poland Bashes Immigrants, but Quietly Takes Christian Ones – The New York Times (

Tilles, D. (2020) Two Million Foreigners Live in Poland, Making Up 5% of Population, Finds Government Study. Available:

Tilles, D. (2020) Poland Has Among Biggest Increases in Public Acceptance of Migrants, Finds International Poll. Available: 





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