The arrival of a record 242,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe - more than half from Poland - has strained West Germans' hospitality and ability to integrate so many newcomers.

Those making up the largest group of immigrants in 1988 - 140,226 - came from Poland, followed by 47,572 Soviets of German descent and 39,832 people from East Germany.The increase over the previous record of 90,000 in 1987 reflects a relaxation of emigration policy in the three Soviet bloc countries.

Even more refugees are expected this year, said Horst Waffenschmidt, the Interior Ministry official responsible for refugees.

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's reform efforts have eased restrictions on those seeking to leave the country, and the more tolerant view has been adopted to some degree by authorities in Warsaw and East Berlin.

Politicians and labor union officials concerned about West Germany's 8 percent jobless rate have been increasingly critical of the government's policy of accepting virtually all ethnic Germans seeking to emigrate to the West.

Many of the newcomers speak little or no German and are already near retirement age or have limited job skills.

The East European refugees usually require government-financed housing, food, language training and other social services for months after their arrival.

Saarland state governor Oskar Lafontaine of the left-wing Social Democratic Party complained in October that the ethnic Germans were getting priority over people from Third World countries seeking political asylum.

Waffenschmidt, an influential member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrat Party, said the Bonn government is committed to doing all it can "to ease for these countrymen their new start in our land."

He said $1.1 billion has been earmarked for aiding East European refugees in 1989.

Christian Democratic spokesman Johannes Gester urged the government to create a fourth reception camp for Soviet bloc immigrants to ease crowding at the three facilities currently registering arrivals and provide initial assistance for them.

Thousands of immigrants are camped in crowded barracks and tent cities throughout the federal republic. Local governments struggle with short funds and a tight housing market to provide suitable dwellings.