The Polish people, or Poles, (Polacy ) are a Western Slavic ethnic group of Central Europe, living predominantly in Poland. Poles are sometimes defined as people who share a common Polish culture and are of Polish descent. Their religion is predominantly Roman Catholic. The Poles can also be referred to as the inhabitants of the Republic of Poland and Polish emigrants irrespective of their ethnicity. A wide-ranging Polish diaspora exists throughout Western and Eastern Europe, the Americas and Australia.
There is no commonly accepted definition of the Polish people. According to the preamble of the Constitution of Poland, the Polish Nation consists of all citizens of Poland. However, like in most European countries, many people limit the group to native speakers of the Polish language, people that share certain traditions, or people who share a common ethnic background originating from Poland. As to its origins, the name of the nation comes from a western Slavic ethnic group of Polans primarily associated with Poland and the Polish language. Poles belong to the Lechitic subgroup of these ethnic people. The Polans of Giecz, Gniezno, and Poznań were one of the most influential tribes of Greater Poland and managed to unite many other West Slavic tribes in the area under the rule of what became the Piast dynasty, thus giving birth to a new state. The Polish word for a Polish person is Polak (male) and Polka (female), however, when this common noun is used verbatim in the English language (usually spelled as Polack) it is always offensive.
The term "Polonia" is usually used in Poland to refer to people of Polish origin who live outside Polish borders, officially estimated at around 10-12 to 20 million. There is a notable Polish diaspora in the United States (Polish-Americans), Canada, (Polish-Canadians) and Brazil (Polish-Brazilians). France has a historic relationship with Poland and has a relatively large Polish-descendant population. Poles lived in France since the 1700s. In the early 20th century, over a million Polish people settled in France, mostly during world wars, among them Polish émigrés fleeing either Nazi occupation and later Soviet rule.
In the United States a significant number of Polish immigrants settled in Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Orlando, and Buffalo. The majority of Polish Canadians arrived to Canada since World War II, the number of Polish immigrants increased between 1945 – 1970, and again since the fall of Communism in 1989. In Brazil the majority of Polish immigrants settled in Paraná State, the city of Curitiba has the second largest Polish diaspora in the world (after Chicago) and Polish music, dishes and culture are quite common in the region. In recent years, since joining the European Union, many Polish people have emigrated to countries such as Ireland; where an estimated 200,000 Polish people have entered the labour market. It is estimated that over half a million Polish people have immigrated to the United Kingdom. The Polish community in Norway has increased dramatically and has grown to a total number of 120,000, making Poles the largest immigrant group in Norway.
A survey carried out by the CBOS public opinion institute, between March 30 and April 2, 2007, found that 86% of Poles felt that EU membership had had a positive effect, with only 5% of the respondents speaking against it, down from 22 percent in 2004. The institute also found that 55% of those surveyed prefer the EU to remain a union of sovereign states, while 22% supported the idea of a "United States of Europe". Principal areas of Polish life that have been improved by EU membership, are agriculture (according to 75% of those surveyed), the environment (61%), productivity (57%) and unemployment (56%).
Among the ten new EU members, of which eight are Central or Eastern European, Poles are the most mobile, with considerable numbers of Polish migrants found in almost all ‘old’ EU countries, filling numerous vacancies on the European labour market, especially in areas where indigenous workforce is insufficient. According to Franck Duvell of Oxford, some countries, like Germany and Austria, missed on that opportunity by discriminating against mobile Europeans, granting them freedom of movement without freedom of employment, which resulted in the increase of numbers of illegal migrant workers there. “In fact, the EU accession process, and namely the Polish experience could possibly serve as a paradigm for easing some of Europe’s migration dilemma,” Duvell suggested.