This thesis investigates the lives of young Polish migrants living in Northamptonshire, who migrated to the UK following Poland’s accession to the European Union in May 2004. Over 1.1 million Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) applications were made in the UK between May 2004 and December 2010, of which around two-thirds were made by Polish nationals. It is noted that high numbers of young people in Poland migrated to the UK, and a little under half of all WRS applications in the UK have been migrants aged between 18 and 24 years. Research exploring the lives of young migrants details strong connections between migration and life course progression. Given the relatively young ages of those migrating, this thesis is concerned with the impacts of migratory experiences upon migrants’ senses of ‘self-identity’, and transitions through the life course.
Explanations for these movements have often treated migration as an ‘empirical event’ by focusing upon economic rationales, and much less attention has been given to motivations for migration, everyday experiences and future intentions of A8 migrants. To address this gap, this research explores the biographies of 40 young Polish migrants, revealing individual factors that influenced their migratory decision-making, and considering distinguishing features that set groups of Polish migrants apart. To achieve this, participants were asked to prepare a narrative of their experiences, based upon four biographical periods: life in Poland, the decision to migrate, life in the UK and perceived future pathways. Following this, 10 case studies were conducted with participants different ‘types’ of Polish migrant. Semi-structured interviews were organised and participants led ‘photo tours’ of their everyday locales.
The findings show that while economic triggers were important to decision-making, it was also the case that social factors were critical, and migration to the UK for some was viewed as a means of leaving the parental home. Traditional social markers of difference, such as gender or age, were found to be of less importance: rather, participants emphasised a range of shared migratory experiences: ‘priorities’, ‘planning’, ‘stability’ and ‘language’. The themes of ‘temporariness’ and ‘trust’ were found to be central to everyday experiences, and participants indicated they were vulnerable to exploitation from other Polish migrants, as well as from known contacts pre-dating migration. Connections were identified between participants’ migratory experiences and their transitions though the life course. Four factors were found to have influenced participants’ transitions through the life course - spaces, times, self identity and support - which combine to form the relative pace(s), ‘smoothness’ and risks of such changes. The term ‘turbulent transitions’ is used to encapsulate major changes within participants’ biographies as a result of migration, which many experienced as being made quickly with limited access to support structures and in environments that contain high degrees of risk. The research calls for a more sensitive account of post-accession migration, which can only be achieved by exploring the experiences, encounters and biographies of migrants