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    This is How Visa-Free Regime Complicates Ukrainian Labor Migration to Europe

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    The European Parliament approved Thursday the introduction of a visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens for short-term travels to the European Union.

    It was noted in the statement that the visa-free entrance for Ukrainians would be available to all EU countries, except for Ireland, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

    "Under the new law, Ukrainians who hold a biometric passport will be able to enter the EU without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period, for tourism, to visit relatives or friends, or for business purposes, but not to work," an official statement by the European Parliament read.

    However, the tourist flow from Ukraine to the EU is unlikely to increase as a result of a visa-free regime. According to an article in the Russian online newspaper Vzglyad, for Kiev, the decision is first of all a symbolic gesture while for many Ukrainians it creates an opportunity to go to EU countries for earnings.

    According to Ukrainian economist Alexander Okhrimenko, director of the Ukrainian Analytical Center, liberalization of the visa regime will complicate labor migration to Europe.

    "Today it is much easier to go to work in Europe because it can be done illegally. A visa-free regime will restrict Ukrainian nationals from working in Europe," Ohrimenko told Vzglyad.

    The most popular destination in the EU for Ukrainians is Poland. It is followed by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Italy. The Polish government said it would increase the annual quota for Ukrainians to 1 million people. However, according to expert estimates, currently there are more than 1 million Ukrainian workers in Poland, including those working illegally.

    The Czech Republic is also considering an increase in the quota for Ukrainian workers, to 7,600 from the current 3,800. In fact, there are some 140,000 vacant jobs in the Czech Republic, but the government fears that a dramatic increase in the quota will drive down domestic wages and result in social tensions.

    Currently, the most popular way for a Ukrainian citizen to enter and work in Poland is a 90-day tourist visa.

    "Poland needs a seasonal labor force. Usually, a migrant worker from Ukraine receives a visa, travels to Poland and works for 89 days. This is illegal. But it is good for employers because a Polish worker would receive 1,000 euros ($1,065) while a Ukrainian asks for 400 euros ($426) for the same job," Okrhimenko said.

    Many Ukrainians want to work in Germany and other Western European countries, but the labor markets in those countries are flooded with migrants from other regions.

    "Polls show that 34 percent of Ukrainians would like to go for earnings to Europe. The most popular destinations are Germany and the UK. In fact, they go to Russia and Poland," the economist noted.

    In Poland, Ukrainians usually receive low-wage jobs, including construction workers, utility workers and harvesters. Employment conditions are dire and migrant workers’ rights are often violated.

    According to a Ukrainian survey, 5 million Ukrainian citizens work abroad, including 2.5 million in Russia and 1 million in Poland.

    Actually, migrant workers are good for the Ukrainian economy. In 2016, they sent to Ukraine some 7 billion euros ($7.5 billion) while foreign investments reached only 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion).

    "This money is already working for the Ukrainian economy," the expert noted.

    He also suggested that in the coming years the flow of Ukrainian migrant workers to Europe will increase.

    "There are a lot of people graduating from Ukrainian universities and then going abroad to work. What’s the reason? In Ukraine they would have a salary of 200 euros ($213) for an office job. This is why they go to pick strawberries in Poland for 400 euros," Ukrainian economist Alexander Koltunovich told Vzglyad.

    According his estimates, 10 million Ukrainian could potentially travel abroad in search of a better life.

    "Over 80 percent of the Ukrainian population is below the poverty line. Some 10 million people able to work are unemployed and 20 percent of the employed population lives in poverty," Koltunovich said.

    However, according to the economist, Europe will not be able to accept all Ukrainian migrant workers.

    "First, this is one of the myths cultivated by Maidan that Ukrainians would be free to go for earnings in Europe. The EU needs to protect the rights of its own workers," he added.

    According to Eurostat, since the beginning of 2017, there have been over 20 million unemployed people in the EU. The unemployment rate in the EU is 8.2 percent and in the eurozone – 9.6 percent.

    "Taking into account the number of refugees in Europe, the EU does not need Ukrainian migrant workers," Koltunovich said.

    He continued: "Second, Poland may overturn or decrease its quotas for Ukrainian workers. After Brexit, many Poles will have to return home and there will be fewer jobs for Ukrainians," he pointed out.

    Meanwhile, Okhrimenko was more optimistic about the future of Ukrainian labor migration. He suggested that if all quotas in Europe are filled, Ukrainian migrant workers could travel to Asia and Africa. Finally, the Russian labor market is still open to Ukraine.

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    unemployment, economy, visa-free regime, European Parliament, European Union, Russia, Poland, Ukraine
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