Months after the start of the war, Ukrainian refugees are slow to join the EU workforce

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PRAGUE (AP) — Liudmyla Chudyjovych had a career as a lawyer in Ukraine and big plans for the future. That was before the Russian invasion forced the 41-year-old to put her daughter’s safety first and leave her job and home behind.

Since fleeing the town of Stryj in western Ukraine in May, Chudyjovych has found a new job in the Czech Republic. But instead of practicing law, she had to settle for working as a cleaner in a hotel in the capital, Prague.

“It’s just a different stage in my career,” she said. “It’s just like that.”

One of millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine since the February 24 Russian invasion, Chudyjovych considers herself lucky to have a job. Not fluent enough in Czech or English, Chudyjovych said he didn’t mind the job as long as she and her daughter were safe.

Although the European Union introduced regulations at the start of the war to make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to live and work in its 27 member countries while they decide whether to seek asylum or return home, many are only now beginning to find a job – and many are still struggling.

Some 6.5 million Ukrainians have entered the EU since February, according to Frontex, the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency, flocking to neighboring countries before many head for more prosperous countries in the West. About half have since returned to Ukraine.

Only a relatively small number of those who remained had entered the EU labor market by mid-June, according to the European Commission.

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development examining the potential impact of Ukrainian refugees on the EU workforce predicts that it will be around twice as large as the 2014 refugee influx to 2017, many of whom were fleeing the war in Syria.

The study estimated that the Czech Republic, which has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe, would add the most Ukrainians to its workforce by the end of the year, with an increase of 2.2%, followed by Poland and Estonia. About 1.2 million workers would be added to the European workforce as a whole, mostly in service professions, according to the report.

Yet the influx is unlikely to drive down wages or increase unemployment in European countries, many of which face labor shortages in part because of their aging populations.

“Given the labor needs of the main host countries, a negative impact in terms of employment or wages for the resident population…seems highly unlikely,” the report concludes.

The EU’s effort to help Ukrainians has been praised by the UN Refugee Agency and other migration rights groups. But they also note a major difference in the treatment of people fleeing wars or poverty in the Middle East, Africa or Asia, who often have to wait years before overcoming obstacles to obtain residency papers or residence permits. work.

Yet many challenges await Ukrainian refugees seeking employment.

In addition to language barriers, Ukrainian skilled workers often lack documentation proving their professional credentials to obtain higher-paying employment. Their degrees may not be recognized in their host country, which means that many must take language courses and training before they can seek professional opportunities.

Because men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine, many refugees are women with children, which can be an additional obstacle in trying to find work. Many women are still considering their options and may decide to return home for the start of the school year in September, officials say, although the war is far from over.

In Poland, which has taken in around 1 million Ukrainian refugees, more than any other EU country, just over a third have found work, according to Polish Labor and Social Policy Minister Marlena Malag. Some have obtained jobs as nurses or teachers of Ukrainian in Polish schools, while others work as cleaners or waitresses.

In Portugal, some of the country’s largest companies have special recruitment programs for Ukrainians, while the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training offers free Portuguese lessons.

In Germany, about half of the roughly 900,000 Ukrainian refugees have registered with the country’s employment agency, although no figures are available on how many of them have actually found jobs. The Mediendienst Integration group, which tracks migration to Germany, says about half of them have university degrees, but does not say how many have been able to work in their professional field.

Natalia Borysova was the editor of a morning TV show in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv before fleeing with her 11- and 13-year-old daughters in March and moving to the German city of Cologne. She applied for low-paying jobs like cleaning, but ultimately decided to turn them down to focus on learning German.

“I’m an optimist and I’m sure I’ll find a job after learning the language,” the 41-year-old said via WhatsApp. “Perhaps at another level than in Ukraine, but in the same field. Now it doesn’t make sense for me to work for minimum wage.

Borysova, like other Ukrainian refugees, receives a stipend from the German government that helps the family pay for food and accommodation, but said she wants to return to work as soon as she is fluent in German.

Chudyjovych is among approximately 400,000 Ukrainians in the Czech Republic who have registered for special long-term visas that provide access to employment, healthcare, education and other benefits. Nearly 80,000 have already found work, the government said.

At the Background café in Prague’s Old Town, 15 Ukrainian refugees work with Czech staff in a project sponsored by the Mama Coffee chain. Refugees also receive free language courses and other programs.

Lisa Himich, 22, from Kyiv, likes it and says “it feels like home here”.

For Chudyjovych, working as a cleaner is much better than living in fear and under the constant sound of air raid sirens.

“I thought I would miss Ukraine and be homesick, but that didn’t happen at all,” Chudyjovych said. “It’s peaceful here and I feel like a human being.”

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Gec reported from Belgrade, Serbia. Associated Press writers Renata Brito in Barcelona, ​​Spain; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland; Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Lorne Cook in Brussels and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian War at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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