The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced millions to flee from the war zone. This brief addresses Ukrainian refuge in Poland. It provides an overview of the current situation, discusses the ongoing solutions and potential future challenges, and stresses the key areas for urgent policy intervention. It is based on a presentation held at the FREE Network webinar Fleeing the war zone: Will open hearts be enough?, which took place on March 14, 2022. The full webinar can be seen here.
The latest data (from March 15, 2022) shows that since February 24, 1.8 million refugees have already crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border. This number represents over 60 percent of Ukrainians who have fled the country thus far. Among this group that relocated to Poland, approximately 97 percent were people with Ukrainian citizenship. Most of the foreign nationals living in Ukraine before the war, and who came to Poland after its outbreak, have already returned to their countries of origin.
Figure 1. The influx of refugees from Ukraine to Poland since February 24, 2022.
Our estimates show that there are currently about 1.1 million Ukrainian war refugees in Poland. Many stay in large cities such as Warsaw, Kraków or Wrocław. The rest of those who crossed the Polish border transited to the other EU Member States or countries outside of Europe, such as Canada or the USA, reuniting with their families and friends.
In the first days after the outbreak of the war, refugee assistance in Poland was mostly provided by Polish families and households, as well as owners of guesthouses and hotels who made them available for the purpose of providing accommodation.
A similar situation took place at the border and at railway and bus stations where refugees were arriving, with a majority of support coming from volunteering citizens. This assistance largely consisted of the provision of basic necessities such as food, hygiene products, and medical or psychological first aid. The level of mobilization among non-governmental organizations, grass-roots initiatives, private citizens, and civil society, in general, is extremely commendable and should be accredited with providing the safe welcome refugees received upon arrival. For example, during the first days, Polish families sheltered several hundred thousand refugees, often in their own houses or apartments. There are currently two main Ukrainian social groups arriving in Poland: women with children and older persons over the age of 60. This is a result of Ukraine’s internal regulations, which prohibit men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country.
Among those who have managed to escape the war, there is a large group of people requiring very specialized support, e.g. children suffering from oncological diseases, and elderly with a high degree of disability. So far, these groups have been provided with the necessary support, but if these needs become more frequent, a review of the capacity of the Polish healthcare system and the system of support for the disabled will be needed.
In the first days after the war broke out, the situation at the border was very difficult. The waiting time for crossing reached up to 70 hours. However, this was related to problems with the information system and the limited number of border guards on the Ukrainian side. Currently, crossing the border is quick and seamless. Every day the Polish Border Police register 80 to 100 thousand individuals, a vast majority of them crossing into Poland. This is a many-fold increase compared to pre-war migration flows, which fluctuated around 12-15 thousand people per day. At the same time, over 80.000 people, mainly men, have crossed the Polish border to Ukraine in the last 20 days with the goal of joining the army or territorial defense.
For a long time, the Polish government held the position that there would be no need to build refugee centers. However, the government recently reversed this decision and decided to open a dozen centers, located in market and sports halls. Currently, over 100,000 people are staying in these types of temporary accommodation facilities. However, these centers are not sufficiently adapted for stays longer than a few days. It is necessary to prepare housing infrastructure (temporary accommodation centers equipped with habitable containers) in which refugees can stay for two or three months until they find another place to live.
So far, Poland has essentially dealt with two of three possible migratory waves. In the first, people with family members or friends living in Poland or in other EU Member States arrived. Before the war, there were already approximately 800 thousand Ukrainians working or studying in Poland. In the second wave, after the bombing of civilian facilities in large cities, people without family or friends living in Poland started arriving. They require full assistance. A third wave is possible, and this one may be much larger than the previous two. It may occur if the situation at the front worsens and the repressions by Russian troops become harsher. Such reports are already coming from eastern Ukraine. If the situation worsens, Poland could even face a couple of additional million people that would leave Ukraine. Under these circumstances, we should assume that the third wave would include young men in addition to women, children, and the elderly. This scenario is currently very unlikely, but cannot be completely ruled out.
Since the beginning of March, Poland has seen an increase in the activity of both local representatives of the government administration and the central government. Information has been gathered about vacancies in smaller cities and local communities where refugees could be accommodated. This is because large cities are on the verge of reaching their capacity for the number of refugees they are able to manage. In addition, a special law entered into force on March 13, which provides for a catalogue of support tools for refugees. The main issues are:
1. The possibility of obtaining an individual identification number, which will enable the opening of a bank account and grant access to the labor market, education, and social benefits. It will be possible to apply for the ID number from March 16. Certainly, large queues can be expected in the first days, as the procedure is complicated and rather bureaucratic. The government decided to require all the necessary information at the start of the application process, which could be complicated for some applicants and lead to additional delays. Based on recent numbers, up to 1 million Ukrainians may apply for an individual identification number in the near future.
2. Reimbursement of the costs of hosting refugees from Ukraine in Polish family homes and in private hotels. The government has agreed to cover the value of around 8 euros per day for each person. However, receiving this refund requires submitting a special application to the local administration offices, which may again cause various kinds of perturbations, and even resignation from obtaining such support.
3. Ukrainian children can be enrolled in Polish schools. It will also be possible to open school branches in temporary accommodation centers, as well as parallel Ukrainian classes inside Polish schools. At present, however, the preferred model is the inclusion of Ukrainian children in Polish classrooms. Currently, no major problems have been reported with this process, but only around 10% of Ukrainian children have entered Polish schools so far. Numerous challenges connected with this integration process are expected. Part of the solution could be distance learning or hybrid learning. The priority is to involve children in education as fast as possible so that they do not lose time while living in Poland from an educational development point of view.
4. A simplified system of qualifications recognition has been implemented for nurses and doctors. Unfortunately, contrary to the advice of experts, the act does not provide guidelines for a simplified qualification recognition of teachers, educators or psychologists from Ukraine. In his media statements, the Minister of Education and Science did not rule out introducing a simplified procedure in the near future. Such recognition could, to some extent, solve the problem of understaffing in Polish schools.
5. All adults from Ukraine who arrived after February 24 have open access to the labor market.
Until early March, the Polish government did not apply for support from other EU member states. Now, this position has changed. Over the first weekend of March alone, more than 20 trains were organized that made it possible for refugees interested in moving from Poland to countries such as Germany or other destinations within the EU. Additional relocation measures are expected in the near future. However, in contrast to the European migrant crisis in 2015, the relocation scheme of Ukrainian refugees is carried out on a voluntary, rather than a compulsory basis.
It is very difficult to predict what will happen in the next days or weeks. While it should be emphasized that Poland is managing the migration challenge well, this is not least due to the exceptional commitment of civil society. Certainly, in the coming months, Poland will not be able to cope with the integration of more than 800.000 people into the labor market and education system. Of course, it is possible to provide ad-hoc support, but that is completely different than integrating refugees into Polish society. Ukrainians are still treated as guests who are expected to return to their homes when possible. Such an assumption should not be changed until May when the situation in Ukraine will be more predictable. We must also be aware that we are dealing with dispersed families who will want to reunite as soon as possible. It is not known, however, whether this will take place in Poland or in Ukraine. It depends on how the situation develops in the weeks and months to come.
In the coming weeks, the key issue will be the relocation of Ukrainian refugees from large to smaller cities within not only Poland but also the European Union. It is absolutely necessary to coordinate activities both at the level of the Polish government and the European Commission. As far as the Polish government is concerned, a task force should be established to maintain constant contact with the European Commission and the EU Member States regarding the ability to relocate refugees from Poland to other countries. This team should be composed mainly of civil servants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior. It is also necessary to appoint a team coordinating the actions of voivodes, who are responsible for crisis management in accordance with Polish law. It is also critical to ensure the flow of information between local administrations and the government, as well as to coordinate the activities of non-governmental organizations, whose activity is key in dealing with the challenges related to the migration crisis. In the next stages, it will be necessary to adopt a systemic approach to the inclusion of Ukrainian children in the education system (Polish and Ukrainian, but functioning in Poland – remote learning), and adult refugees to the labor market.
In the end, I would like to recall my opinion, which is now popular in the media and among representatives of the central government, local governments and non-governmental organizations: “Helping refugees and managing migration crises is a marathon, not a sprint.” We must keep this in mind.
As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, five million Russian and Russian-speaking people repatriated to Russia during 1990-2002. I use this natural experiment to study the effect of a large migration wave on the employment and wages of the local population. Taking into account the non-random choice of location by migrants within Russia, I find a negative effect of the inflows of immigrants on the local population’s employment but not on wages. The initial negative effects on employment are particularly large for local men, but they disappear after about ten years from the peak of the migration wave.
The effect of migration on the labor market of the host country is a long-standing question within economic literature and in public debate. In many cases, researchers try to estimate this effect using the data on large and unanticipated migration movements. The most famous study of this kind is probably Card (1990). Another case is the Russian migration to Russia resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to the 2002 Russian Census, 5.2 million of the people living in Russia in 2002 resided outside the country in 1989. That is, 3.6 percent of the 2002 population immigrated to Russia after 1989. Almost all of them (94.4 percent) immigrated from the former Soviet republics, most notably Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
The existing literature on migration flows in the former Soviet Union (fSU) since its collapse has emphasized the socio-political factors of migration. Locher (2002) finds that ethnic sorting was a major determinant of migration among the fSU countries, with the countries’ stage of transition and wealth level playing a minor role. Yerofeeva (1999) shows that ethnic repatriation was one of the main reasons behind migration from northern and eastern Kazakhstan.
In Lazareva (2015), I study two sides of the labor market effects of the immigration from fSU countries to Russia. The first side is the process of assimilation of migrants in the Russian labor market. The second side is the effect that inflows of immigrants had on the labor market position of the local population in Russia. Data used for estimation span a long period of time, which allows for tracing dynamic long-term effects of the influx of immigrants. This is the first comprehensive study of the labor market effects of one of the largest migration waves in Europe in recent history.
In order to estimate the effects of the inflow of immigrants on the employment and wages of the local population, I exploit variation in the share of immigrants across Russian regions. According to the Census in 2002, migrants were quite dispersed over Russia’s vast territory; their share in population varied from 0.42% in the Tyva region to 8.5% in the Kaliningrad region. A relatively large share of migrants is observed along the border to fSU countries as well as in the oil-rich regions of Western Siberia.
A major problem when using regional variation to estimate labor market effects is that the migrants’ choice of region may be affected by the condition of that region’s labor market. Naturally, migrants tend to choose locations with higher wages and more employment opportunities. If this is the case, the estimates of the labor market effects will be biased.
However, the immigrants’ choice of location was not completely unconstrained due to the costs of migration related to the distance and access to information. Given these constraints, there is a relative crowding of immigrants in the regions of Russia that are closer to the border with fSU countries. Hence, I use the variation in the share of migrants across regions, which depend on the geographical distance from the source countries. In other words, I obtain the estimates from the comparison of regions that are similar in all their characteristics except for the distance to the border with fSU.
Data and Results
I use panel data on households from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey for the period 1995-2009. In the 2009 survey, the respondents were asked since what year they live in the Russian Federation. I define as immigrants, people at the age of 18 and above who moved to Russia after 1989. Note that the RLMS sample, which consists of people residing in the same dwelling units in each round, is unlikely to include illegal migrants or temporary (seasonal) labor migrants. Rather these are mainly people who settled in Russia permanently at some point during the 1990s and 2000s.
In the RLMS sample, 3.6 percent of the respondents moved to Russia after 1989. This is consistent with the national-level statistical data on immigration flows. A majority of the immigrants arrived to Russia in the early and mid-1990s. Immigration peaked in 1994 when almost 1.2 million people moved to Russia. After that, immigration steeply declined; during the 2000s, the registered level of immigration was at about 200,000 people per year.
A majority of the immigrants (71.7%) in the RLMS sample are of Russian ethnicity, and there is a slightly higher share of males. Importantly, migrants are not significantly different from the locals in terms of their education levels. The statistics on marital status show that a higher share of migrants compared to locals have families and children. Apparently, family migration was a large part of this migration wave.
Using the methodology described above, I obtain an insignificant effect of the share of immigrants on the wages of the local population over the period of 1995-2009. The effect of immigrant share on the unemployment of the local population is also insignificant. In contrast, estimates for the labor force participation (LFP) show a significant negative effect of immigration on the LFP of the local population. The size of the effect is non-negligible: a one-percentage point increase in the share of immigrants in a region reduces the probability for a local person to be in the labor force by 0.6 percentage points. Thus, over the whole period of 1995-2009, Russian immigration is estimated to have had some displacement effect, but only in terms of the labor force participation of the local population.
Since the inflow of immigrants was mostly concentrated in the first half of 1990s, I estimate my model for three sub-periods: 1995-2000, 2001-2004, and 2005-2009. The results for the wages remain insignificant in all sub-periods. Immigration is shown to increase the unemployment among locals in the first half of 2000s, but this effect dissipated in the second half of 2000s. The effect of immigration on the labor force participation is negative and highly significant for the late 1990s, still negative and significant but smaller in magnitude in the early 2000s, and disappears in the late 2000s. This analysis suggests that the immigration wave had a quite significant displacement effect for the local population in terms of unemployment and labor force participation, but not in terms of wages. This effect slowly declined and had disappeared by the second half of 2000s. My results also suggest that the negative labor market effects were more significant for men than for women.
The results of this study have implications for the debate on the effect of immigration on local labor markets, in particular on wages and employment opportunities for the native population. The majority of existing studies find only minor negative effects of migration on the labor market position of locals. My results suggest that immigrants who are close substitutes to the local labor force, due to the common language and similar education, have more significant effects on the labor market outcomes of the local population.
The finding that displacement effects in Russia dissipated quite slowly may be related to the very low migration rates of the local population in Russia throughout the transition. In order to reduce negative labor market effects of large influxes of immigrants, policy measures are needed that improve labor mobility across regions. These may include moving or housing subsidies, retraining programs and policies ensuring equal access to jobs and public services for internal migrants across the regions of Russia.
- Card, David, 1990, The Impact of the Mariel Boatlift on the Miami Labor Market, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 245-257.
- Lazareva O. Russian Migrants to Russia: Assimilation and Local Labor Market Effects //IZA Journal of Migration. 2015. No. 4:20
- Locher, Lilo, 2002, “Migration in the Soviet Successor States,” Applied Economics Quarterly, 48 (1), 2002, 67-84
- Yerofeyeva, Irina, 1999, “Regional aspects of Slavic migration from Kazakhstan on the basis of examples from North Kazakhstan and East Kazakhstan provinces”. In: Vyatkin, Anatoly, Kosmarskaya, Natalya, Panarin, Sergei (Eds.), V Dvizhenii Dobrovoljnom i Vynuzhdennom [In Motion—Voluntary and Forced]. Natalis, Moscow, pp. 154–179
Author: Ina Ganguli, SITE.
Immigration is a hotly contested policy issue in many countries. Often, the debate centers on whether immigration is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the receiving country. A growing literature in economics focuses on understanding whether immigrants can be beneficial for a receiving economy by helping spread knowledge and increasing innovative activities. In this policy brief, I discuss new evidence showing that immigrants can be an important channel for diffusing knowledge across national borders. Drawing upon the influx of Russian scientists to the United States after the end of the Soviet Union, I present compelling evidence that immigrants contributed to cross-border knowledge flows, which are the basis for innovation and ultimately economic growth.