Four million Ukrainians work abroad – research by Center for Economic Strategy

According to the Center for Economic Strategy (CES) research, some 16 percent of Ukrainians of working age work abroad. However, the number of Ukrainians working abroad simultaneously is about 2,6-2,7 million as when one migrants depart, the others come back.

The research is based on the data of State Statistics Service and State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, International Organization for Migration, Eurostat, Russia’s Federal Migration Service, and findings of the CES surveys.

Thirty-four per cent of Ukrainians who have been travelling abroad in 2015-2017 are commuters, going abroad for short temporary employment and then coming back. Some 20 percent are long-term migrants, and other 20 percent are short-term migrants. About 100 thousand Ukrainians left the country with their whole families, possibly forever. About 563 thousand (14%) went abroad but came back.

According to Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service, 6.3 million Ukrainians left the country forever since 2001. This figure includes people who will probably come back in the next years and Ukrainians who obtained nationality of other countries or are permanently living abroad on other legal grounds (or illegally).

After 2014, the number of Ukrainians emigrating forever has dropped twice. Popular destinations for labor migration changed as well: the number of people crossing Ukrainian-Russian border fell from 11 to 8 million per year, while the number of travelers crossing Ukrainian-Polish border grew by 40 percent (from 14 million to 20 million annually). In addition, if before 2014 labor migrants going to Poland were mostly from Western Ukraine, after 2014 there are more people from other parts of the country.

“We know from various sources that the average age of labor migrants tends to decrease. In recent years, an average Ukrainian labor migrant going abroad is younger than 40 years old and usually has no university degree. At present, there are no grounds to say about massive labor migration of Ukrainians with university degrees: their share in the total number of labor migrants is lower than the share of university graduates among Ukrainians in general. The highest number of migrants with degrees is among Ukrainians who went to the US, Israel, Germany, and Finland,” says Yulia Ruda, CES economist. The majority of Ukrainian labor migrants work in agriculture and construction.

The average time of permanent employment abroad tends to become shorter. In 2015-2017, 47 percent of migrants were away for less than six months, and among Ukrainians working in Poland, they constitute even 94 percent. However, the situation is different with very good professionals with university degrees: if they leave, they are usually leaving forever. “According to our survey among IT specialist, 57 percent of those who went abroad departed with their families, and 30 percent invited their families to move too after their own departure. If high-qualified professionals move abroad, this usually means they are leaving forever, because the money they earn will be almost the same, but living costs abroad are higher,” explained Yulia Ruda.

While in Ukrainian public discussion migration is mentioned mostly in the negative context, it brings benefits too, noted Dmytro Yablonovskyi, Deputy CEO of the Center for Economic Strategy. “The money that our migrants send back home has a significant impact on the UAH exchange rate because they bring money in foreign currency. Labor migration abroad means less poverty and less unemployment at home. However, this is true for difficult times. At present, Ukraine’s economy is slowly recovering, and this factor which was helpful during the crisis has a negative impact: there is growing demand for the labor force, but there is less labor force because of migration; the employers have to pay higher salaries to attract candidates. From employees’ perspective, this is surely good, but for employers, it means a challenge: how to increase productivity and survive the competition,” he explained. In addition, growing salaries lead to growing prices. Another negative impact of labor migration is a decrease of payments to the Pension’s Fund, and this is worrying about Ukraine’s demographic situation.

Dmytro Yablonovskyi mentioned that all new EU members after having joined the EU also faced the problem of massive labor migration to richer EU countries, and their GDP growth fell by 0,6 – 0,9 percent.

The experts recommend that Ukrainian authorities organize a systematic collection of data on migration in order to see the real situation. The measure to be taken first of all is the national population census (the previous one was held in 2001). They advise to take advantage of migration’s positive impacts, for instance, to encourage transparent remittances of money that the migrants earn abroad, and strengthen collaboration with Ukrainian diaspora; to decrease migration’s negative impact and stimulate internal migration to regions with growing demand for workforce.

“The labor force does not come back unless there are economic reasons: economic growth and higher salaries as a result. As of today, the gap between salaries in Ukraine and abroad is big, and several experts say that this trend of labor migration to other countries will continue in the nearest future,” summarized Dmytro Yablonovsky.