After recent violent events in Russian Biryulevo, the question of labor migration has arisen again in many countries. In this respect, Ukraine performs as both a country-supplier (in a greater degree) and a country-host (in a lesser one). Right after the proclamation of independence, citizens of the young post-soviet state started leaving for aboard. Since about the same time Ukraine has been hosting foreign migrants. For all these years there have been various myths and opinions on Ukrainian migrant workers and their foreign "colleagues". And only recently the Migration service has provided more or less full "Migration profile of Ukraine", depicting particularities of the current migration situation. Going into details, ForUm has analyzed what this situation is and what opportunities it offers. 

What can we offer?

For one thing, it is impossible to trace in detail all flows of Ukrainian labour migrants, especially illegal ones, as there is no effective system for this. Thus, authors of the "Migration profile of Ukraine", among which there is the International organization for migration, use crude figures, which cannot be considered an absolute, but can be used for analysis. The latest data was collected for the period of 2010-2012 years. According to the data of the State Employment Service, 86.7 thousand Ukrainians worked abroad officially, under contract. In turn, the State Statistics Service reports that the number of Ukrainians, who worked or searched for work abroad from January 1, 2010 to June 17, 2012, makes 1.2 million people, which is 4.1% of the population between 15 and 70 years old. Well, the truth is somewhere in between. 

"As of today we use the figure of 1 million 200 thousand people. These are Ukrainians, who we consider labor migrants. They mostly go to Russia, but some countries of the European Union, like Poland, Italy, Greece, Spain, also welcome our citizens. Many people go abroad for seasonal works, like harvesting in Hungary for example," first deputy head of the State Migration Service of Ukraine Viktor Sheibut says.

In particular, the list of most popular countries for Ukrainian migrant workers includes Russia (43.2% of workers), Poland (14.3%), Italy (13.2%), Czech Republic (12.9%), Spain (4.5%), Germany (2.4%), Hungary (1.9%), Portugal and Belarus (1.8% each).

Average image of a Ukrainian migrant worker depicts a man of 25-49 years old or a woman over 30. Thus, contrary to popular belief that qualified specialists leave the country on a massive scale, the statistics says that 64.9% of migrant workers, regardless of sex, have complete secondary education, and only 15.4% have diplomas of higher education institutions. In most case, men go to work in the spheres of construction, household, agriculture and trade. However, the sector of employment depends on sex and destination country. In Belarus and Russia our men work mostly on construction sites and at oil-production enterprises, in Poland - in the fields and gardens, in Hungary- in hotels and restaurants, and in Germany - in the spheres of engineering, geology and geodesy. Women mostly do household work (Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal), trade (Russia), hotel jobs (Czech Republic, Portugal) and industrial jobs (Spain). Some cynics may say that what Ukrainian women do abroad is nowhere near to household work, but neither the authors of the Profile nor public organizations have reliable data to prove or refute the common belief about "prostitution trend".

On average, the majority of Ukrainian migrant workers spend only about 1-3 months abroad, and contrary to another popular belief, 48.5% of migrants leave the country only for a short period, while just 14% of Ukrainians become full-fledged emigrants.  

Who comes to us?

The process of counting foreign migrant workers is even more complicated. According to averaged data, there were 211 thousand foreigners, mostly Russians, registered in Ukraine in 2012. But these figures are insignificant, and as of today the legal channels of immigration are rather tight. The number of official migrant workers, who worked in Ukraine under working permits in 2012, makes 7469 people. But they mostly include CEOs, highly skilled specialists and others of that kind, who do not really fall under the classic definition of a "labor migrant". Moreover, there are also illegal migrants, but we can speak about their total number only indirectly, proceeding from the number of those, caught by border guards. Thus, the authors of the Profile have not found a common denominator yet. Basing on such odd bits of information, we can only state that disastrous inflow of migrants, observed in France, Britain and Russia, is not observed in Ukraine, yet. 

Despite poor data on the subject, authors of the Profile have formed an average image of a foreign migrant worker, trying his luck in Ukraine. These are mostly men from CIS countries, Turkey and, curiously enough, Poland. And they mostly do jobs, which do not require special skills. By the way, in these latter days Ukraine hosts many citizens of Syria and African countries. The first run from the war, but do not win refugee status, others use Ukraine as a transit country. However, both Syrians and Africans are considered here as labor migrants.

"As for jobs foreign migrant workers do in Ukraine, it depends on the level of their integration, knowledge of language and professional skills. Obviously, migrants opt for jobs, which do not require some special skills. They work mostly as general laborers, builders, road workers. Such jobs also do not require active communication skills. However, we are developing a project on professional education of labor migrants. I am not speaking about some high-level education, but at least language course for foreigners to adapt faster," Viktor Sheibut says.  

Special caste of students

Students, coming to study in Ukrainian higher educational institutions and leaving to adopt foreign experience, belong to a separate category.  Thus, in 2012-2013 academic year Ukrainian universities welcomed 60 thousand people from 146 countries worldwide, mostly CIS, Asia and Africa. In turn, 55 thousand Ukrainians students went to study in Russia, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, USA.

The situation here also has two sides. For us foreign students are the most welcomed migrants, as they are already educated (by our standards), speak the language and have integrated into the society. On another scale there are Ukrainian students, young and talented, for who studies abroad become the first step to a long-term migration, considering that some foreign states provide residence and working permits, as well as citizenship, for young specialists to stay. 

Good or evil?

"As the saying goes, we all seek what is better. Many people cannot find a job in Ukraine or are not satisfied with offered conditions, thus leave for aboard for better life. However, there are many positive aspects of labor migration. The matter concerns, first of all, exchange of experience. Labor workers work in better conditions and on better equipment. Coming back to Ukraine, they bring not only money, which they invest in Ukraine's economy by the way, but also new skills and knowledge, which they can and should apply in Ukraine. At the same time, negative aspects are also observed. And the question concerns labor and social security of migrant workers, who are sometimes treated differently from "locals". However, Ukraine pursues the answers," national coordinator of the International labor organization in Ukraine Serhiy Stavchuk told ForUm in a comment. 

"What I have to say is that when country's labor pool leaves for abroad, it is unfavorable for Ukrainian economy. It is obvious that when we lose qualified workers the economy suffers. But on the other hand, there are regions where these qualified workers cannot find a job, like in Eastern Ukraine where mines and plants get shutdown, but have to maintain their families. Thus, when these workers leave for abroad to earn money, but then come back and bring money with them, it is rather profitable for the economy. Moreover, it is also profitable when immigrants get engaged into labor activity in Ukraine, pay taxes and, basically, serve the country. Migration processes are international. They cannot be banned or closed," Viktor Sheibut adds.

Well, migration, as any other issue, has its good and bad sides. In the press, however, as well as in the society in general, the opinions on migrant workers, both Ukrainian and foreign, are rather negative, like the former "leave families, taint the image of the country...", while the latter "are overrunning our country and create chaos". However, the only way to stop this is to close borders, completely, like notorious iron curtain, which is not very efficient either. As of today, Ukraine's advantage is that it can observe the experience of other countries and learn from it. Thus, why not to try to benefit instead of complaining?

Valentyna Dudko


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