Almost 3,000 Polish people left Northern Ireland in past year over Brexit uncertainties
Up to 3,000 Polish people have left Northern Ireland in the past year as the UK struggles to thrash out a Brexit deal with the EU.
Jerome Mullen, the Honorary Consul of Poland in Northern Ireland, said 10% of the Polish population in Northern Ireland have left in the past 12 months as a direct consequence of uncertainty over Brexit.
He said the Polish exodus from the UK will be a "disaster for the economy", but that many Poles are not willing to remain here when they don't know how their residential status and ability to work will be affected once the UK leaves the EU.
He was speaking as it emerged the Polish ambassador to the UK, Arkady Rzegocki, has written to Poles encouraging them to "seriously consider returning to their homeland" post-Brexit.
Mr Mullen said: "Some are returning to Poland, some are going back to Germany, some are going to other countries in Europe because of the uncertainty they face in the UK.
"The economy in Poland is growing, it is doing very well and it needs skilled people to come back to take up jobs."
Mr Mullen added: "It is even becoming difficult for me to encourage people to come from Poland to work here when companies ask me to find people who are willing to work.
"Many companies in the UK have benefited from skilled workers coming from Poland, that's why the borders were opened in the first place, and now these companies are going to lose out.
"It is going to be a disaster for the UK economy."
Earlier, Mr Rzegocki told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Poland and the Polish economy is growing, life standards are improving - they are much different compared to five to 10 years ago.
"I think it is a very good opportunity to come back to Poland. I think you can achieve your goals in both Britain and Poland."
He said he had written to about 800,000 Poles living in the UK as a call to action to secure their future by either applying for settled status or considering a return to Poland.
Mr Rzegocki said while there is still time to apply to the settled status scheme, which allows EU citizens to apply to remain in the UK post-Brexit, he expects those who want to will have done so already.
He added: "On one hand, there is still a lot of time to apply. On the other hand, because of Brexit, it is better to achieve settled status soon."
Mr Rzegocki said although a significant number of Poles remain in the UK, many are considering a return to Poland.
He added that last year, 116,000 left the UK.
"There are still about a million here, but you can see there is a discussion being had," he said.
In his letter, he wrote: "To date, around 27% of Poles living in the British Isles have applied for settled status.
"This is an alarmingly low level, meaning that thousands of Polish citizens may be exposed to complications related to the lack of regulating their status.
"With the dynamically developing situation regarding the United Kingdom's exit from the EU and the relatively low rate of applications for settled status by Polish people, I would like to draw your attention to the need to submit such an application if you want to stay in the UK after Brexit.
"I also encourage you to seriously consider the possibility of returning to your homeland.
"The rapidly growing economy of our country creates more and more opportunities for citizens for development and good living conditions in the country.
"Soon, Great Britain, which has been home to thousands of Poles for generations, will most likely cease to be a member of the European Union - which we regret, but we also see this process as an opportunity to strengthen the bond between our two countries."
The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics suggests around 832,000 people born in Poland were resident in the UK in 2018, the joint highest overseas-born population alongside India.