Ukrainians have the right to work in Europe – but how hard is it to find a job?

Ukrainians fleeing the Russian war in their country have the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years.

This episode of the real economy looks at the difficulties Ukrainians may face in finding jobs and asks the question: what does this influx of refugees mean for the European labor force and economy?

Real Economy travels to Austria to hear the stories of two Ukrainian women who recently arrived with their children. Furthermore, we ask the head of the European network of public employment services, Johannes Kopf, what the EU is doing to help Ukrainians find work.

Opportunities in the tourism industry

More than 40,000 Ukrainian refugees are staying in Austria with their children. A temporary residence permit allows them to live and work in the country.

Natalia settled in the Carinthia region in the south of the country, known for its mountains and lakes. Back in Ukraine, she was a beautician. When she arrived at a local refugee center, the hotel managers offered her accommodation and a job.

“I really like working here,” she says. “We signed a contract until September, then I will watch how the situation develops in Ukraine.”

The tourism industry in Austria is booming and since 2019 the number of vacancies in the hospitality sector has doubled, with many employers unable to find staff.

For manager Alexandra Tiefenbacher, offering available rooms and vacancies to Ukrainian refugees for the summer season was a no-brainer.

“Now there are about 60 to 70 people living here,” she says. “And 29 of them work for us in different departments: kitchen, restaurant, cleaning, building services, childcare. It’s going pretty well. Of course, there’s a barrier of language, but we get by.”

Natalia speaks a little English, which allows her to communicate with her colleagues. But juggling her work commitments and caring for her 5-year-old daughter is a challenge.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “There is a children’s playroom here, but it closes at 4:30 p.m. If I have a service that ends at 11 p.m., I always have to find someone to babysit.

Since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, more than 7 million Ukrainians have fled their country, although around 2 million have returned home. Most are women and children.

They may encounter various difficulties in finding a job, in particular having to take care of the children and finding places in a crèche or at school. They can suffer severe trauma. Newly arrived Ukrainians cannot always speak the language of their new country and their qualifications may not be recognized.

Helping Ukrainians get jobs

To help, the EU offers language courses and training as well as guidelines in Ukrainian on how to enter the labor market.

The European Commission helps EU employers understand and recognize Ukrainian qualifications and has translated into Ukrainian Europass, which allows users to create a CV for use across Europe.

It also translated the EU Skills Profile Tool into Ukrainian. The tool helps to map the skills, qualifications and work experience of refugees, migrants and third country citizens staying in the EU.

The European Commission is also launching an “EU talent pool” to match the skills of Ukrainian refugees with job vacancies.

Obstacles in other sectors

In Austria, other sectors such as health and IT lack qualified personnel. But although half of the Ukrainian refugees registered in the country have a university degree, immediate access to these positions is difficult.

Ganna Zhygun, mother of three and German teacher from Ukraine, recently arrived in Vienna.

“The most important thing for me was to find school places for my three children,” she says. “Now that I found this, I’m looking for a job.”

Ganna would like to work as a German teacher to help other refugees who don’t speak the language, but her diploma is not recognized in Austria.

“My educational documents must be translated, legally recognized and recognized,” she explains. “It’s a problem, it takes a long time.”

Staff from an employment center set up to help refugees in Vienna help Ganna in this process.

“We accompany them to appointments,” explains Marjana Celebi, an adviser at Pôle Emploi. “We translate and help if necessary. The aim is to build a wide network with all partners involved, so that we can help you as quickly as possible.”

In the meantime, Ganna, like other registered refugees in Austria, receives the minimum wage and health insurance.

The Vienna Job Center is part of the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS). AMS director Johannes Kopf is also chairman of the network of public employment services in the EU.

He explained to Naomi Lloyd of Real Economy that managing the influx of Ukrainian refugees at European level is a top priority.

He explained how countries supported each other and shared their experiences.

Sharing best practices

“The topic came up just days after this terrible war started,” Kopf says. “When our Polish colleagues informed the network that the first Ukrainians would come forward and need help. This caused a real wave of solidarity among public employment services across Europe.

“Some states: Sweden, Germany, Austria have had a lot of experience with the refugee crisis in 2015/16 and after. For example, organizing the skills recognition process or how to organize individual skills mappings in their mother tongue.”

He explained that the refugees arriving now have special needs, which differ from previous refugee crises.

“At the moment most of the people who come are women with young children, and they have different needs, of course. The most important thing is that there is a need for childcare. Austria must organize enough places in schools, kindergartens, etc. And the next step is to enter the labor market.

The European Network of Public Employment Services plays a key role in matching the skills of newly arrived Ukrainians with labor market needs and has publicly expressed its solidarity with Ukrainians and its commitment to support those fleeing war

How can Europe rise to the challenge of successfully integrating Ukrainian refugees?

Real Economy put the question to Sandra Leitner, specialist in migratory movements at the Institute for International Economic Studies in Vienna.

“If it’s just labor market integration, if we exclude the cultural aspect, the political reactions, we’ve learned a lot, I think, from previous waves of migration in terms of what’s really important. to facilitate the transition to the labor market,” says Leitner.

“And that is: language, education, recognition of diplomas. With all these elements in place, I think everyone can be welcome.

For Johannes Kopf, helping Ukrainians to integrate is above all a question of solidarity with refugees.

When asked how newcomers from Ukraine could help fill skills and labor shortages in the EU, he replied:

“Of course, there are vacancies and companies that are really looking for qualified personnel and now hope to find, for example, Ukrainian IT experts. Of course.

But I don’t really like to mix asylum or refugee topics with labor market needs. Yes, it is better to integrate all these people than to simply pay them social benefits. But first and foremost, it’s a humanitarian issue.”

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