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    Ukraine's Jobless Can't Wait for EU Visa Restrictions to Be Lifted

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    Forget about a million refugees and migrants that have arrived in Germany this year. Europe should brace itself for several million Ukrainian migrant workers next year when the EU promises to introduce visa-free travel with the country.

    And never mind that, visa-free travel only applies to tourist, and not work, visas.

    The dream of visa-free travel to the EU was one of the biggest drivers of the EuroMaidan movement that toppled the government of Viktor Yanukovych almost two years ago. The arduous negotiations with bureaucrats in Brussels went on for over 7 years, ever since the "Orange" government of Viktor Yushchenko abolished visas for western visitors in the hope that the West would reciprocate.

    However, the West didn't until Ukraine largely surrendered its sovereignty to EU and US financial institutions and a western-sourced government.

    Having imposed a host of new laws and regulations on Kiev, Brussels has promised to consider easing visa requirements for Ukrainians.

    ​President Poroshenko and his foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin have made the most of this vague promise. Poroshenko posted on his Facebook account, saying: "We have achieved it!"

    But what has Kiev really achieved, and what the EU will get if it really lifts visa requirements for Ukrainians?

    Do Not Throw Your Visa Away Yet

    Ruslan Sidorovich, an MP from the Samopomych (Self-help) party has advised Ukrainians "not to throw away" their old passports with Schengen or any other western visas. He reminded his fellow countrymen that first they have to obtain new biometric passports, and to understand that visa-free travel only applies to brief visits without taking up jobs. The rules for work and student visas are going to be tightened further, he warned.

    However, most Ukrainian observers agree this would not stop Ukrainians from working in the EU illegally. The unemployment in Ukraine is rising at an alarming rate. When Ukraine's Central Bank withdrew licenses of a lot of small struggling banks, their clients went bust and laid off their workforce. Even according to the official figures 2.5 million Ukrainians lost their jobs since the start of the EuroMaidan troubles two years ago.

    ​But it's not the end of it. The severing of economic and business ties with Russia in favor of closer ties with EU forces many factories that have been geared towards the Russian market to close. Ukraine's traditional heavy industries, the backbone of its economy up to now, will disappear, which will have a knock-on effect on the emergent small and medium size companies that are dependent on subcontracts. There were hopes for new employment opportunities in high-tech industries, such as software development, where young Ukrainians are quite strong. But they have been dashed by the exodus of employers like Hewlett-Packard, Opera, Luxsoft and even Ukraine's very own 908 to Poland and Ireland.

    The Poorest Country in Europe

    According to Credit Suisse rating, Ukraine has overtaken Moldova as Europe's poorest country per capita. An average wage in Ukraine is 180 euros per month and more and more Ukrainians are willing to risk working illegally in the EU, where those who are already there earn twice as much.

    Since gaining independence in 1991 Ukraine has joined the top 5 countries that provide migrant labor to the world.

    ​Nobody knows exactly how many Ukrainians are working abroad. The Ministry of Labor's official statistics put the figure between 3 and 5 million. Unofficial figure is as high as 9 million. Most researchers agree the truth is somewhere in-between — around 6-7 million.  About 40% of these are working illegally.

    Up to now most Ukrainians have been working in Russia — both legally and illegally. Their remits back home have been four times as high as those from the Ukrainians in the US ($1,026 billion vs $267 million for the first half of 2014). Because of Kiev turning its back on Moscow, Russia has just introduced restrictions on migrant workers from West and Central Ukraine. They have nowhere to go now but to the West.

    Only this year Poland has received 267 thousand Ukrainian migrants — officially. According to some estimates, about the same number have received Hungarian passports and residence permits.

    And many have moved on to the richer EU countries, like Germany and the UK. They now account for $130 and $111 million of Ukrainian remits respectively.

    Pollsters GFK Ukraine reckon about 3 million Ukrainians are planning to look for jobs in the West as soon as visa restrictions are lifted. One out of five are prepared to work illegally and even surrender their passport to unscrupulous Western employers to get a job. Many of their employers will be their own compatriots who have already made it to the West…    

    Related:

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    European Union Promises Ukraine Visa-Free Travel…Again
    Tags:
    visas, visa-free travel, government, European Union, Rada, Petro Poroshenko, Europe, Ukraine
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