European Countries Open Labor Markets to Ukrainians

Global HR

​Ukrainians and others streaming across the border to escape Russian military attacks should find it easier than in the past to seek work under relaxed policies approved by the European Union and individual nations.

The EU recently granted temporary protection for Ukrainians and certain other foreign nationals fleeing the besieged country to enter member nations and receive one-year residency permits, with the right to employment, housing and education. The EU emergency protection is subject to extension, potentially by another two years.

“The details of implementation by each of the 27 EU countries are still being finalized, but the normal visa requirements have been lifted,” said Sarah Hawk, an Atlanta-based attorney with Barnes & Thornburg.

[see SHRM members-only Navigating International Crises]

Easing Immigration Rules

“Even before the recent announcement, many European countries were allowing an extreme relaxation of immigration processes to provide temporary measures for visa-free entry for Ukrainians for 90 days and then an option for changing to work-authorized status at a later time,” Hawk said.

The United Kingdom also announced a proposed humanitarian sponsorship pathway to enable U.K. companies, organizations and individuals to sponsor Ukraine nationals to travel to the U.K., with the ability to work and access public services, she noted.

Sky News reported on March 9 that the U.K. had introduced two visa paths for Ukrainians, one allowing refugees to reunite with family members living in the U.K. and another, yet to be implemented, allowing individual or organizational sponsorship of Ukrainians even if they lack U.K. ties.

“The policies reflect an unprecedented unity among EU countries to act more quickly and with immediate warmth toward the Ukrainians, whereas [other] refugee and asylum situations have been much slower and more challenging due to the lengthy processing requirements,” Hawk said.

Employers in Europe should know that individuals fleeing Ukraine to EU countries will need to await each individual EU member country’s legislation on the protection measures, which are being finalized for implementation, she said.

They may also face processing delays with obtaining the requisite biometric passports, immigration and educational credentials to obtain their work authorization documents for long-term residency or subsequent work-permit programs, she said.

Humanitarian Crisis

More than 3 million people had fled Ukraine as of March 15, after the Russian military launched widespread attacks against the country on Feb. 24. Poland alone has received approximately 1.8 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Others have crossed the border into nearby Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, Russia and Belarus, and more than 258,000 had traveled beyond those countries to other European nations, according to the U.N. agency, which estimated that 4 million people may flee Ukraine.

People escaping Ukraine can go to Poland without any special formalities and without presenting a passport at the border, according to Anna Skuza, an attorney with Moskwa Jarmul Haladyj in Warsaw. Given the EU’s temporary protection measure, she said, “the approach to refugees from Ukraine will be relatively unified across the European countries.”

The EU has provided protection to all Ukrainian citizens and family members who resided in that country before Feb. 24 and were forced to flee due to the Russian invasion, Skuza said.

The Polish parliament has been working on a draft law that would allow Ukrainian citizens who legally crossed the border into Poland starting Feb. 24 to legally stay for up to 18 months from that date without obtaining residency permits, she said. The period could be extended for another 18 months, according to Barron’s.

The special law would allow Ukrainian citizens to work in Poland without a work permit, establish businesses in Poland or register as unemployed, and these Ukrainian citizen refugees would be entitled to certain social benefits, including a one-off cash benefit, free psychological assistance, medical care and food aid, Skuza said.

Non-Ukrainian citizens who were granted international protection in Ukraine prior to the war will be entitled to protection in Poland, she said.

Employers in Europe who plan to hire relocating workers from Ukraine and provide organized accommodation may need to offer them child care during work hours, according to Skuza, who noted that women and children account for most of the arrivals from Ukraine. “Alternatively, work should be organized in a manner enabling these emerging communities to provide such care on their own,” she said.

Employers should take into account that when the armed conflict ends, some fleeing Ukraine may decide to return to Ukraine. For those who choose to stay, the immigration status may change, and it may be necessary to obtain appropriate permits, potentially at short notice, Skuza said.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia.

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