According to the data of the National Bank of Ukraine, Ukrainian labour migrants have transferred $8.5 billion home from abroad this year. Over the past year, they transferred almost $16 billion to their homeland. The figures are impressive. Ukraine is financially replenished, retained, and capitalised primarily by labour migrants, not investors, industrial development, or innovations. Despite the changes introduced by the pandemic in the labour market operation, Ukrainians are steadily in demand as valuable workers in the top 5 EU countries: Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany.
The pandemic has revealed the true place and influence of migrant workers in the economies of different countries. Unfortunately, it is not always favourable. However, the main change that may become noticeable in the near future, according to most experts, is increasing level of legalisation of labour migration, as well as raising the issue of safety of labour migrants.
Why do Ukrainians leave?
According to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, there were 3.2 million migrant workers in 2019. Their number reached 7-9 million people during seasonal works.
At the same time, 11,311 people went abroad for permanent residence, while 1,996 people returned.
In 2020, according to the National Bank of Ukraine, there were about 3 million migrant workers. Over the year, 400,000 – 500,000 people returned to the country, but mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021, according to the Institute for Demography and Social Studies, the number of migrant workers will total 2.5-3 million.
This year, according to a study by Gremi Personal, Ukrainian labour migrants plan to integrate more actively in Poland, and the share of irreversible migration will grow.
As last year, there is a steady trend of the youngest, able-bodied population under 39 leaving Ukraine.
The reasons that respondents list among the main ones that motivate them to leave Ukraine are also economic. The main ones are:
- Unemployment (70.9%)
- Bad economic situation (49%)
- Lack of prospects (23.2%)
- Political instability (22.8%)
- Corruption (14%)
According to the indicator of remittances by migrant workers of over 10% of GDP, Ukraine ranks second in Europe. In fact, workers bring a lot of money to Ukraine. By doing so, the state of Ukraine is partially relieved of the burden of maintenance and social security of its low-income citizens. At the same time, as mostly young people are leaving, the demographic situation in the country deteriorates.
The Vox of Ukraine study of the impact of labour migration on the economy indicates that remittances improve the well-being of migrants’ families and stimulate domestic demand in Ukraine. In addition, their stable inflow plays a countercyclical role in the current economic crisis and is one of the main sources of foreign exchange earnings for the country. On the other hand, migration reduces the supply of labour in the Ukrainian labour market and, consequently, potential GDP. Therefore, the policy of using the positive effects of labour migration and minimising its shortcomings is very relevant to Ukraine.
Pandemic and its implications for labour market
The pandemic and its aftermath have greatly affected international economy and labour market. Thus, according to Olena Kirilyevnina, head of Jooble’s Partner Relations Department, the pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of workers in such issues as wage cuts, layoffs, working and living conditions, access to personal protection, access to healthcare and medical care and social services in general. All this fostered the relevant organisations to pay more attention and look for ways to solve the problems revealed during the crisis.
In addition to the negative factors, the pandemic has created also positive conditions for addressing key issues in the field of labour migration. In particular, Iryna Sushko, executive director and leading expert of the Europe Without Barriers analytical centre, member of the Migration Policy Expert Council at the National Institute for Strategic Studies and the Public Council at the State Migration Service, underscores that it will be impossible to return to the old conditions after the COVID-19 crisis: “To date, other conditions and new rules of the game are being formed on the labour market. Therefore, all countries, including Ukraine, have the opportunity to be active players and join the formation of a new system in which labour migration will continue to exist. That is why it is important for government bodies to maximise dialogue at the international level and work in this area in close partnership with EU countries. Currently, we have all the opportunities for doing this.”
According to the Jooble international job search site, about 6% of job seekers in Ukraine are interested in working abroad. “It is the economic motive that is leading in Ukrainians’ search for jobs abroad. Our users respond, first of all, to job openings with the highest salary level. At the moment, these are such positions as builder, driver, long-haul truck driver, packer, multifunctional labourer, and loader in the EU countries,” says Olena Kirilyevnina.
At the same time, the demand for such positions in Europe is currently twice as high as for similar positions in Ukraine, and the need for skilled and unskilled personnel has almost equalised.
By the way, Poland remains the leader among the five countries where Ukrainians most often go in search of jobs, creating the most attractive conditions for the migration of Ukrainian workers. Andrzej Drozd, Vice President of the Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, coordinator of the Partnership and Employment social campaign believes, “Poland has been and remains to be a large market for Ukraine for many years. Of course, the pandemic and restrictions have reduced the number of people working or looking for work in Poland. Whereas the number of Ukrainian workers was up to 1.5 million in 2019, this number decreased to 800,000–900,000 during the year of the pandemic. This trend has also been impacted by declining labour demand, as Polish industries, which have traditionally been important for migrant workers, suffer crisis. For example, it is hotel business and services sector. But it should be noted that despite the obvious decrease in demand, the number of offerings for Ukrainians still remains quite large.”
Mechanical engineering, construction industry and furniture industry remain traditional sectors in which the Polish expert predicts the greatest labour demand.
In turn, Yana Korsak, CEO and head of Nautilus LT recruitment agency (Kaunas, Lithuania) stressed, “After the lockdown, when the liberalisation process began, businesses tried to return to the usual pace of work and respond quickly to new challenges, but not all of them succeeded. Labour demand began to appear only from January and February 2021. Currently, the most frequent request, as in Poland, we have from construction industry, agriculture, as well as logistics companies that are looking for international drivers.
Despite the fact that the EU countries still have demand for workers of various specialties and qualifications, there are extremely negative trends in the overall nature of employment of Ukrainian citizens. They were outlined by Kateryna Ardanyan, Migration and Development Manager at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Ukraine.
“The pandemic has exacerbated the negative trends that existed in the market before COVID-19. They include social vulnerability and increased risks of exploitation, human trafficking, and illegal transportation of migrants. Unfortunately, these trends are somewhat correlated with what we see today in Ukraine. Due to the unstable situation, job seekers are not so meticulous in their search. At IOM, we have a consultation hotline, and an average of 20,000 to 25,000 migrants a year call it. The topics of conversations and inquiries, as well as statistical research, show us the trend: the number of migrants who continue to search for jobs abroad, regardless of employment sector, keeps growing over two years of the pandemic.