Poland has said it expects the majority of its expatriates to carry on working abroad despite the global economic downturn but would have new jobs to offer at least some of those who return.

Labour minister Jolanta Fedak said that European Union funds and preparations for the Euro 2012 football tournament would help keep unemployment down, while relatively high pay levels in western Europe meant that many of the estimated hundreds of thousands of Poles working there would remain abroad.

Analysts have suggested government forecasts for economic growth and employment for next year are too optimistic.

But Ms Fedak said: “We must remember that we have to be prepared for the soccer championship in 2012. This is likely to help the construction sector to survive the slowdown.” Poland is due to co-host the tournament with neighbouring Ukraine.

“Also, we have huge EU funds flowing in and the scale of toxic loans in Poland’s banking system is very small,” she said.

Poland’s regional development minister recently said that Warsaw would now boost its economy by speeding up spending of a total 67 billion euros in EU funds earmarked for 2007-2015.

Asked whether she expected many Polish workers to return home as western European economies dip into recession, Ms Fedak said: “So far our emigrants are not very keen on coming back because the disparity in salaries is still big.”

Labour ministry estimates show only about 12,000 Poles have come home and registered at labour offices since the start of 2008. However, a recent poll in Ireland showed a third of that country’s estimated 200,000 Polish immigrants plan to leave Ireland within a year.

Ireland’s economy is now in recession and its construction industry, which employs many Poles, has been particularly badly hit. But those who leave will not necessarily return home.

The West Midlands has more than 100,000 migrant workers from Eastern Europe, the majority from Poland.

Poland’s unemployment rate fell to 8.8 per cent in October, the lowest since the early 1990s, when it was still making the transition from the communist era of full employment.

The Polish economy, the largest in ex-communist central Europe, grew by 6.7 per cent in 2007 and is seen growing by five to 5.5 per cent this year.