How Ukrainians Displaced in Poland Find Work While Benefitting Its Economy
Poland, far from being overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge from the Russian invasion of their country, is seeing its economy grow, according to economists.
The latest available figures from early August show that around half of people of working age who fled Ukraine for Poland are now in employment.
In an interview with VOA, World Bank economist Reena Badiani-Magnusson, who specializes in the region, called the employment statistics for temporarily displaced persons, or TDPs, released by the Polish government “impressive”.
Badiani-Magnusson cites a study by the National Bank of Poland which found that between 2013 and 2018, during the first wave of Ukrainian migration, the presence of Ukrainian migrants in the country had a positive impact of 0.5% on the growth.
“In addition to this, we have done an analysis of the current crisis, and we find that if 500,000 displaced Ukrainians manage to integrate into the labor market, we expect a medium-term impact on growth of 1.5 %,” she added. said.
Experts interviewed by VOA said there are three main reasons why the “refugee crisis” has quickly filled the Polish market with needed labor. First, the Ukrainians who arrived in Poland, many of them mothers with children, had high professional qualifications and wanted to work. Second, the Polish authorities quickly eliminated most obstacles to Ukrainian employment in the TDP. And third, the large Ukrainian diaspora has facilitated the adaptation and work engagement of newly arrived compatriots fleeing the war.
Ukrainians working below their qualifications
For many newly arrived Ukrainian women, says Ludmila Dymitrow, coordinator of the Information Center for Foreigners in Krakow, low-skilled work is only the first step.
“We explain that even if you had a good job and high status in your home country, you might find it here too, but start with something simpler. A good start can start in many different ways, even from checkout in a store. Learn the language, and life will give you other opportunities.”
One of many Ukrainian TDPs in Krakow, Olena Kurta, mother of two, cleans hotel rooms. In 2014, she was teaching law in the town of Horlivka in the so-called Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, and later opened and ran a daycare center in Kryvyi Rih.
“I want to learn the language and find another job. I haven’t decided what I want to do. I have to start all over again,” Kurta said.
Tatyana Potapova, another Ukrainian woman, came to Krakow from the village of Lyptsi near Kharkiv, captured by the Russians at the start of the invasion. In her sixties and a chemist by training and employment, she enrolled in Polish lessons as soon as she arrived.
“I imagine I can work as a janitor in an institution. It’s my dream. I’m even willing to work in a store, but preferably not in a grocery store,” Potapova said in an interview with VOA.
Polish authorities provide immediate employment support
On March 12, 2022, the Polish parliament passed a law on assistance to Ukrainian citizens, which gave POWs from Ukraine the right to stay legally in Poland for 18 months and access its health system, education, social services and the labor market.
The government and local authorities help Ukrainian TDPs to find jobs. For example, the provincial employment administration helps match job seekers with employers. It also launched some programs, accessible only to Polish citizens and Ukrainian TDPs, which included financing 85% of the cost of vocational training, its director said.
The administration sent its representative to the Center for Foreigners, located in the commercial center of Krakow, to help job seekers find opportunities and apply for vacancies.
Badiani-Magnusson emphasizes a comprehensive approach to facilitate Ukrainian women’s access to the labor market.
“The Polish government and society are to be recognized and commended for their generous and open support for the arriving populations, the speed and speed with which the populations who wanted to work were able to obtain registered temporary protection” which provided services that have allowed to integrate them into the labor market, said the economist.
Ukrainian diaspora helps newcomers find jobs
Maciej Bukowski, president of the Warsaw-based research institute Wise-Europa, draws attention to another aspect – before the arrival of a new wave of TDP after February 24, Ukrainians were already in Poland, arrived especially after 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and instigated and supported aggression in Donbass.
The presence of Ukrainians helped to absorb the sudden and large wave of new refugees from Ukraine.
Obstacles for Ukrainians in the Polish labor market
Yet obstacles to the employment of Ukrainian TDPs remain. The language barrier is one of them. Even though Ukrainian and Polish are linguistically close, it takes time and effort to become fluent in Polish.
The Zustricz Foundation, an organization of Ukrainians in Krakow, offers courses for Polish language learners, one of the popular ways to help Ukrainian TDPs.
A second obstacle is the need to take care of children. Almost half of those who arrived from Ukraine after February 24 and stayed in Poland (600,000) are children.
Badiani-Magnusson of the World Bank stresses the need to find a job corresponding to the qualifications of Ukrainian job seekers. The founder of the Zustricz Foundation, Aleksandra Zapolska, agrees – there is always a need to connect employers and job seekers, especially among the most qualified.
“In the medical field, there is a great need for nurses and doctors; for example, there is a shortage of psychiatrists. On the other hand, the doctors do not really know who to turn to because not all the hospitals are interested at this time; there is no way for them to meet,” she explained.
The World Bank also indicates that Ukrainian entrepreneurs need help adapting to Polish legislation and accessing finance. “You can imagine that you can have a very successful business in Ukraine, and you would like to be able to bring those same skills to the Polish job market,” says Badiani-Magnusson.
An uncertain outcome
Zapolska points to another problem: uncertainty about the future.
Will these people return to Ukraine? Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukrainians will return with the liberation of Ukrainian territories; the critical moment here will be the liberation of Kherson. That is why, he said, it is essential to end the war so that Russia can no longer continue to pose a threat to Ukrainian territories.
“Many Ukrainians don’t know if they will return, and their decision often changes,” Zapolska said.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 7 million Ukrainian TDPs remain in European countries, including 1.3 million in Poland. Since the start of the large-scale offensive, more than 6 million people have crossed the border between Ukraine and Poland.
VOA Georgia Service contributed to this report.