THE number of foreign nationals coming to stay in Northern Ireland has plummeted.
That’s according to figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), which show immigration to the Province has almost halved over the last few years.
There has been a particularly sharp drop in the number of Polish migrants arriving – down from a high of around 6,700 in the “boom year” of 2007 to just over 1,700 last year.
The sharp drop has been blamed mainly on the Province’s faltering economy.
And now some of those who came to the Province in previous years are leaving again.
One of them is architect Maja Gibowicz, who had spent around seven years in Northern Ireland.
Although she had been working, her husband (also an architect) was unable to find a job after being laid off.
So she went back to Poland last month, and from there to Australia – where she hopes the economic situation, and the weather, will be sunnier.
Her last job before leaving the Province?
Helping build a new immigration hall at George Best City Airport.
Ahead of a farewell dinner planned with friends, the 32-year-old said: “The reason I came here was because of this whole construction boom in 2005 and 2006.
“Whenever I started, I met around 30 Polish architects; we were a big group, travelling together, arranging dinners and Christmas parties, etcetera.
“After about two or three years people started coming back to Poland after the recession started.”
Now she has packed her bags too, but will miss a great deal about the Province.
“What I noticed first of all is during the last seven years Northern Ireland has changed a lot,” she said.
“As an architect, it’s changed visually. There are new buildings; it’s better kept.
“I think the government and the councillors are trying to improve the city.
“What I’m going to miss? All those typical Irish things like the pub, the atmosphere, the way people deal with each other in the office.”
It has not all been rosy though.
“I know Belfast can be a problematic place,” she said. “My husband was beaten in 2004 or 2005. It was before we met. But that can happen everywhere.”
She added: “I’m not going to miss the weather.”
Maciek Bator, founder of the Belfast-based Polish Association, is one of many who seized the opportunity to go abroad when Poland joined the EU in 2004.
“Some people wanted to go for economic reasons, some wanted to save money and go back to Poland, some didn’t want to be part of Polish society, others wanted to travel,” he said.
With recruitment firms like Grafton opening offices in Poland, many came to take jobs with employers such as Moy Park.
Back home though, attacks against emigrants had been widely publicised in the media.
Mr Bator, 30, said: “It was like: ‘The Polish people are being attacked in Northern Ireland, the Polish community is not welcome, there’s a high level of racism in Northern Ireland’. I think that had some impact.”
But the main thing killing off immigration has simply been the economy.
“The UK was the ‘promised land’,” he said.
“People thought if they go to the UK it will be much better than in Poland.
“People recognise in some ways it’s better – but it’s not the promised land.”
Full story in Saturday’s News Letter