Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility in Ukraine

This piece first appeared in Kyiv Post as an op-ed by Anh Nguyen, IOM's Chief of Mission in Ukraine.

On 18 December, we celebrate International Migrants Day. This year also marks the 70th Anniversary of the International Organization for Migration and the 25th Anniversary of the IOM presence in Ukraine. On this special day, IOM would like to appeal on the importance of harnessing the potential of human mobility.

According to the IOM World Migration Report (2022), there are 281 million international migrants, a force with a huge potential for development. Our joint future can be shaped through impactful decisions to address the challenges and opportunities presented by global mobility for enabling migrants to contribute their knowledge, networks, skills and capital to build stronger and more resilient communities.

Let’s not forget that while globally in many cases migrants take substantial risks on their migration journey and employment, remittances continue to offer lifelines to their families staying home and to spur local markets at a time when COVID-19 has heavily affected economies, especially those of Low- and Middle-Income Countries.

What can Ukraine do to harness the potential of human mobility?

Ukraine has a very dynamic migration landscape. Almost 3 million Ukrainians are migrant workers at any time. Many people have chosen to migrate regularly, many others have turned to unsafe migration practices, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst the pandemic, migrants continued sending money. According to the National Bank of Ukraine, in 2020, the amount of remittances sent to Ukraine was approximately USD 12 billion, being down just by 0.3 per cent, compared to 2019. Many migrants returned to Ukraine (btw 300,000 — 400,000) during the first year of the pandemic, putting a lot of pressure on the local labour market.

Ukraine is also a country of immigration. Over 440,00 migrants are regularly staying in Ukraine with permanent and temporarily residence permits, fulfilling their primary migration aim (work, studies, business, etc.), but the number of those in an irregular situation is also considerable. IOM estimates this number to vary from 37,700 to 60,900. These people cannot have access to official employment opportunities, yet almost half of them would like to regularize their status and stay in Ukraine.

IOM believes that the key response to the question on how to harness the potential of human mobility is the development of a robust national policy and administrative framework that maximizes the benefits of well-organized labour migration, strengthens protection measures for Ukrainian citizens abroad and foreign migrants within Ukraine, and widens opportunities for socioeconomic reintegration of returned migrants in their local communities.

While according to the latest IOM estimates, over 40 per cent of Ukrainians working abroad are employed unofficially, the development and operationalization of a national circular migration framework, including bilateral and multilateral cooperation with destination countries, would help ensure that Ukrainian migrant workers safely access foreign labour markets. An active reintegration policy framework would ensure migrants’ full social and economic integration in the communities of return and their contribution to local development through skills, knowledge, innovation. So will an effective Diaspora engagement policy for national and local development.

On the other hand, pathways for safe and regular migration into Ukraine also need to be enhanced and stay open. An active immigration policy requires that Ukraine makes its best in attracting skills and qualifications needed in the national labour market, while also providing regularization opportunities for those with an irregular status. A good immigration policy implies also that migrants are being protected and enjoy access to services, including to health services and vaccination (COVID-19 specifically) regardless of their legal status.

IOM stands ready to further support the Ukrainian Government, Parliament and all stakeholders in adopting best practices for harnessing the potential of human mobility.

Let’s not forget that no country can manage migration effectively and sustainably in isolation. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) is an effective tool for States to discuss how best to address challenges to human mobility posed by crises like COVID-19 without compromising the human rights of people and states’ sovereignty.

The IOM efforts over the past 70 years, complemented by partnerships, have helped ensure we are better placed to respond to growing challenges faced by migrants, transit and host communities. The current global health crisis provides the opportunity to build more inclusive and resilient societies, where well-managed migration allows states and individuals to maximize the benefits and potential of human mobility. Let’s utilize this opportunity for the benefit of Ukraine.

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