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Migration: Ukraine’s Bane or Boon?

Mass labor migration eases pressure on the battered economy, but brain drain looms as more professionals join the exodus.

12 April 2019

One significant topic was conspicuously absent from the debates leading up to the first round of Ukrainian presidential elections.

 

Even if some candidates talked about labor migration, it was only in passing, political analyst Kost Bondarenko told the 112.ua news outlet. Firebrand former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called labor migration “mass and panic escape” but neither she nor other candidates proposed concrete measures to stem it, 112.ua says.

 

And yet, few Ukrainians are untouched by the phenomenon of labor migration. The All-Ukrainian Association of Companies on International Employment estimates that about 5 million of Ukraine’s 44 million people now work abroad.

 

Association president Vasyl Voskoboynyk said the emigrants help “release pressure in our boiling kettle” by cutting the jobless rate and sending large amounts of cash back home – $11.6 billion last year, The Associated Press reported in March.

 

Poland, where the average worker earns three times more than in Ukraine, is the destination of choice for many Ukrainians. Polish authorities have actively sought Ukrainian labor to fill the gaps left by the country’s own mass migration to the UK and other European Union countries. Ukrainians make up about 80 percent of migrant workers in Poland, Cezary Kazmierczak, the head of the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers of Poland, told JAM News.

 

“Today, Poland is in a difficult demographic situation. Every year 700,000 people leave the labor market, and only 400,000 enter. That’s a loss of 300,000. This has been going on for several years. The country simply does not have enough hands,” Kazmierczak said.

 

While emigration may help the underpowered Ukrainian economy in the short term, a rising number of professionals are choosing emigration, threatening a brain drain, the AP wrote.

 

In a recent report, the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences picked out some of the reasons for middle-class flight. Social benefits and wages are stagnant even as the costs of essentials like utilities and food are rising fast, the report found. According to 112.ua, the report concluded that migration potential is being fueled not so much by poverty as by “a sharp deterioration in the life of the middle class, which is not used to tolerating it and has some opportunities for migration.”

 

 

  • Poland is also attracting an increasing number of Georgian migrants, who can work there legally thanks to simplified work rules for citizens of some former Soviet countries, JAM News says. In 2018, 12,000 Georgian citizens received temporary work permits in Poland, compared to just a few the previous year.

 

  • “It is cheap to come to Poland. The main thing is that you get your documents and medical insurance drawn up here. Everything is legal, and nobody bothers you. The salaries are not so big, but what can you do – you can’t get half of this back home,” 57-year-old Zaza from eastern Georgia said.

 

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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