Ethnic Poles make up one of the largest groups in the United Kingdom, so it’s unsurprising to learn that Polish migration has had a strong influence in the shaping of Great Britain as a country.

In fact, Poles can be found throughout the UK’s population, historically seen as hard workers and respected contributors to Britain’s labor market, economy and culture. Centuries of Polish migrants means that many people today have Polish heritage in their family.

If you’re curious about the history of Polish immigration in the UK, the current state of Polish diaspora and what your Polish ancestry means for you, our introductory guide can provide you with the most notable highlights.

When did Polish immigration to Britain start?

Throughout British history, there has been an influx of Polish men, women and children coming to the UK. Mostly, this has been tied to the history of both Poland and Europe.

The earliest known accounts of Poles living and working in the UK primarily consist of religious individuals, notably protestant migrants or trade merchants, particularly those selling grains. There were also periods of cooperation and unity between the United Kingdom and Poland, most notably in 1683. After a Polish-lead coalition defeated the Ottomans, London changed one of its Soho street names to Poland Street, which remains unchanged to this day.

However, prior to the 1830s, it’s estimated that no more than 1,000 Polish immigrants actively lived in the United Kingdom. As such, it doesn’t reflect the majority of Polish immigration to England, as many migrants arrived in subsequent periods.

Polish migration between 1831 and 1863

During the early 1800s, many Poles arrived in Great Britain after two key events: the November Uprising in 1831 and the January Uprising in 1863. As both events were unsuccessful revolutions, most Poles in these migrations represented political elites and other exiles looking to avoid political oppression in their home country.

In Poland this period was marked as “the Great Emigration” due to the previously unseen numbers of Poles leaving the country.

As such, many chose to start a new life in the UK, and thus marked the first significant influx of the country’s Polish population. Notable Poles that arrived during this period include Michael Marks, co-founder of retail chain Marks & Spencer, and Jack Cohen, whose family went on to found Tesco.

Polish migration between 1939 and 1955

During the Second World War, over a quarter of a million Polish soldiers, pilots and their families served under the British. Due to their nature as demobilized armed forces, many Polish people in this wave continued to hold on to their Polish. identity.

In 1947, after the war, the UK government implemented the Polish Resettlement Act in order to help these Polish men stay. In latter years, as Poland came under the influence of communism, they were joined by more Polish refugees and Political exiles.

This period is often historically referred to as the second Great Emigration, due to the large number of Poles leaving Poland. Although emigration happened around Europe at this time, London and the UK were seen as a central location during this time.

Polish migration between 2004 and 2014

When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, this enabled a great deal of travel for Polish migrants. National statistics estimate that, in 2014, there were at least half a million Polish people living in the country.

There had been some trickle of Polish migration since 1898 and the fall of communism, but it was Poland’s integration with the European Union that ultimately enabled easier travel between the two countries.

However, this is also where it gets hard to determine exact figures. Due to the European Union’s freedom of travel, only a small number of Polish people claimed British nationality.

The Polish population in the UK today

According to current estimates, there are around 700,000 British Poles living in the UK. When it comes to the geographical distribution of Poles, Polish communities can be found across all corners of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no one singular location where the vast majority reside.

This number has been on somewhat of a decline since 2017, when the UK Polish community was at a peak of over 1 million, but this could be due to a number of reasons.

The influence of Polish immigration to UK communities is still evident today. Whilst fully integrated, many towns and cities feature Polish shops, specializing in Polish and eastern european goods. National statistics also show that the largest number of British Poles can be found in London – notably in Ealing – as well as the South East and the West Midlands.

How large is the Polish population?

First of all, many later generations of Polish migrants may not fully realize their Polish ancestry. A survey in 2021 found there were 682,000 Polish born individuals in Great Britain, but this does not account for their children and other descendents. It is commonly believed that, with the latter generations included, the number of Poles in the UK increased drastically. This is important to note as the integration of Polish nationals in the UK means that applications for Polish citizenship or recognition of Polish heritage has been low.

Similarly, improvements in Poland’s own economy, combined with the uncertainty of life in the UK following the Brexit vote, and any decisions from the British government, have lessened the reasons behind emigration, so there are less Polish born people arriving in the UK. This has also led to a rather recent uptick in Polish-British citizens looking to officially recognize themselves as Polish nationals, to retain access to the European Union.

Benefits of Polish Citizenship

There are a number of critical benefits to Polish citizenship for those living in Great Britain. First of all, if you have Polish ancestry, citizenship is a great way to officially recognize your own heritage.

Secondly, since Poland joined the EU, this also makes Poles EU citizens. In the uncertainty of post-Brexit Britain, EU nationals still retain the freedom of movement to travel, live and work in any EU country. This is also supported by the fact that British Poles can also apply for a Polish passport (available to all Polish citizens), which grants visa free access to over 155 countries.

How do you get Polish citizenship?

The Polish government recognizes Polish citizenship if you have an ancestor that:

  • Was a recognized Polish citizen
  • Did not lose or renounce their citizenship status
  • Lived in Poland at some point after 1918

If eligible, then the Polish government considers your citizenship a birthright. As such, the process for claiming involves collecting the necessary documentation and details to prove your blood lineage. However, this process is not without its challenges, as the application must be filled out in Polish and all documents must likewise be officially translated into the Polish language.

For these reasons, it’s always best to get expert assistance to make the process as smooth as possible. We can help you with that. You can even start by taking our free quiz to determine your Polish ancestry and eligibility for citizenship.

Are you by any chance of Polish origin? Find out if you are eligible for EU citizenship by taking the test below:

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