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.
Authors: Simon Commander (IE Business School, EBRD and Altura Partners) and Irina Denisova (CEFIR, NES).
Using Russian Ministry of Labor administrative data for all legal migrant applications in 2010 and matching the migrant to the sponsoring firm, we find that there is some – albeit limited – evidence of firms using migrants to address high skill shortages. However, the overwhelming majority of migrants are skilled or unskilled workers rather than qualified professionals; a reflection of the low underlying rates of innovation and associated demand for high skill jobs.
Migration policy continues to be a priority in Russian economic policy. This is driven both by a demand for labor – given the unfavorable demographic trends of the last decades – and the easily available supply from the CIS countries. It is still not clear, however, what is the skills structure of the demand for migrants. Relatively new administrative data on demanded permissions to employ migrants sheds however some light on the issue.
In particular, we use the 2010 nationwide dataset ‘Job positions filled by migrants’ published by the Russia Federal Employment Service. The dataset gives detailed information on the applications for permits for migrants, including the 4-digit occupation, firm ID and the offered wage. The Federal Employment Service’s role is to approve or reject an application. In almost all cases documented in this dataset, approval was granted. Moreover, in 99% of the cases, the duration of the permitted contract was one year.
The data allow us to study the skill composition of demand for migrants from the legal sector, with the sizeable illegal labor migration staying beyond the scope of the study. The total number of applications for all of Russia in 2010 was just over 890,000, of which nearly 250,000 or 28% originated from firms in Moscow. The analysis below uses the permission data for the 21 most developed Russian regions (a full version of the paper is available as Commander and Denisova, 2012).
A breakdown of the number of requests in 2010 by skill type using the one-digit ISCO-88 classification (Managers, High-level professionals, Mid-level professionals, Service worker, Skilled agricultural workers, Craft and trades workers, Plant and machine operators, Unskilled workers) shows that over 70% of the requests were for skilled and unskilled workers. At the same time, about 17% of the total migration requests were for higher-level professionals (7%) and managers (10%). Among managers, nearly nine out of ten requests were for production or department managers with no more than 12% of managerial migration requests being for top-level executives. Among the category of high-level professionals, architects and engineers accounted for over two-fifths of requests.
Is the situation any different in the main urban labor markets? In Moscow a lower proportion – around two thirds of the migrant applications – were for skilled and unskilled workers. The starkest difference was that professionals working in IT accounted for a minute share of total high-level skill applications in Russia, but nearly 9% in Moscow. Thus, while there are some differences in the migration profile between Moscow and the rest of the country, the broad picture that emerges is one where migration policy and practice seem to be responding mainly to the apparent bottlenecks at the lower-skill end of the labor market.
Legal requests for migrants are massively dominated by requests concerning low-skill groups; and illegal migrants, as shown by anecdotal evidence, are mainly low skilled. At the same time, there is a sizeable demand for qualified migrants, managers and professionals. There are two potential motives to issuing a request for a qualified migrant: to economize on the costs of labor by substituting a local laborer with a migrant; or to fill in the gap of the scarce qualification/skills hardly available domestically. The two motives could be distinguished by looking at the wage offers associated with the posted positions and comparing them with wages paid in comparable occupations in the same region. The aim of the exercise is to see – particularly within the categories of higher-skilled applicants – whether they command any wage premium that might reflect their scarcity value.
Figures 1-2 plot the reported (relative) wage offers for two migrant skill categories: Department Managers (ISCO code=122) and Computing Professionals (ISCO code=213). The figures depict distributions of relative (to the region average) wage in logs, thus implying that the points around 0 are the wage offers at the level of regional average, above 0 means positive wage premium, and below 0 means negative wage premiums (economizing on the costs). Each figure also gives the mean search wage from the EBRD survey of recruiting agencies in 2010 (relative to the regional average).Figure 1. Relative Wage Distribution, Production and Operation Department Managers (ISCO-88 Code: 122) Source: Authors’ calculations based on Rostrud 2010
It is clear from Figure 1 that the wage offers for migrants do not identify any clear positive selection effect, in that migrants’ wages mostly fall below the survey search mean comparators. In the majority of cases, the offered wages also fall below the regional average wage thus implying that the motive is to substitute for cheaper labor.
The demand for migrants with skills of IT professionals is more complicated: there are those who offer wages below regional average, but there is also a large group of those ready to pay a wage premium to attract migrants (with log wage above zero). The search through recruiting agencies (the survey wage) would still require offering higher wages.Figure 2. Relative Wage Distribution, IT Professionals (ISCO-88 Code: 213) Source: Authors’ calculations based on Rostrud 2010
For further analysis, the migration dataset was mapped to the ORBIS (a dataset assembled by Bureau van Dijk) firm observations using the unique national tax identification code (so called INN). The ORBIS data includes information on firms’ balance sheets and simple performance data such as output per employee.
When looking only at demand from firms that lie in the top 10-20% of the productivity distribution (productivity is calculated as output per worker in the narrowly defined industry), the picture looks somewhat different: wage offers tend to lie above the average (Figure 3). It is likely that the most productive firms tend to offer wages higher than both regional average for the occupation and the survey-based search wages. This implies that the scarcity of skills on the domestic labor market is one of the more important motives behind the demand for migrants from high-productivity firms.Figure 3. Relative Wage Distribution, Production and Operation Department Managers (ISCO-88 Code: 122), 10% Most Productive Firms Source: Authors’ calculations based on Rostrud 2010 and Orbis-Roslana
To control for other firm characteristics, we run regressions relating the relative wage of a migrant to a set of firm and region characteristics, including measures of size and ownership, a measure of recent growth in the region, as well as the level and change in foreign direct investment in a given region since 2007. We also control for the tightness of the local labor market, using a measure of search wages raised in the EBRD survey compared to average wages in a region. The estimates are run with and without region, industry and occupation controls. The results show that relatively high wages tend to be associated with large and/or foreign-owned firms. Growth in a region or the level of FDI per capita are not systematically associated with the relative wage once controls enter the regression, suggesting that the relative wage is largely determined by firm-level features. The measure of labor market tightness enters positively but is insignificant whencontrolling for industry, region and occupation.
Overall, the data from the Russian Ministry of Labor that documents all applications for migrants to Russia in 2010 and allows matching the migrant to the sponsoring firm, show that there is very limited evidence of firms using migrants to fill high-skill jobs. In fact, the overwhelming majority of migrants, skilled or unskilled workers, were mostly originating from other states of the CIS. Furthermore, most were hired at relatively low wages in comparison to the occupation/region averages or the wages reported in the EBRD survey of recruiting firms. At the same time, there is a sizeable portion of demand for skilled migrants, which are offered wage premiums. The demand originates mostly from highly productive firms. Migration policy should acknowledge these different motives behind the demand for migrants.
- Simon Commander and Irina Denisova “Are Skills a Constraint on Firms? New Evidence from Russia”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 7041, November 2012