August 2023

Ukraine War: How is Poland’s Labour Market Changing?

Penteris employment law specialist Adrianna Patoka and corporate law expert Justyna Jóźwiak took time out to consider one of the greatest transformative changes on the Polish labour market…

New Home

On 24 February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine. As a consequence of this turmoil, over 14 million Ukrainians crossed into Poland seeking refuge. While most of these displaced individuals eventually returned to their homeland, approximately 3 million Ukrainians have chosen to make Poland their new home.

Among these refugees, a significant portion consists of women who have encountered challenges on this new labour market. These obstacles include language barriers, a lack of support in bringing up children (babysitting and kindergartens) forcing them to often have to stay at home, and difficulties in validating their educational and experiential backgrounds due to a lack of contact with their homeland and an inability to procure the necessary official documentation from the Ukrainian authorities.

Helping Hand

In order to offer these Ukrainian refugees a helping hand, Poland has introduced a series of legal changes to facilitate their integration. Refugees who arrived directly in Poland and declared their intention to stay have been granted the right to legal residence for 18 months, with the option to apply for a 3-year temporary residence permit. Additionally, Ukrainian refugees with legal status have been granted full access to Poland’s labour market. The once complicated work permit procedure has been simplified to a mere notification to the relevant employment office within 14 days of starting a job. Additionally, those who obtain a Polish national ID number (pol. PESEL) can now establish their own businesses.

Remarkably, the assimilation of Ukrainian refugees into Polish society has progressed swiftly compared to other nations receiving war refugees. As of April 2023, according to data from the National Bank of Poland, around 65% of Ukrainian refugees had successfully secured employment. Also, an interesting shift has occurred, with Ukrainian refugees opening over 17,000 businesses in Poland during the first year of the conflict, significantly surpassing the 7,000 businesses established before the war. These enterprises predominantly focus on construction, transport, beauty and food services.

Fresh Opportunities

The surge in entrepreneurship presents an opportunity for Ukrainians to transition from being predominantly employees to potential employers, offering prospects to both Polish and Ukrainian workers. However, the demand for workers persists within the Polish economy. Businesses in Poland have recognised the need to tailor their job offers to attract Ukrainian employees, often providing Polish language courses and education programmes in Ukrainian. This is complemented by comprehensive policies catering not only to Ukrainian citizens but to immigrants in general. The Polish government’s efforts to simplify and digitise residence and work permit procedures, initiated in the second half of 2022, will further enhance the attractiveness of the Polish labour market.

Despite challenges such as language barriers and initial expectations of return, Ukrainian refugees have contributed significantly to Poland’s workforce. Ukrainian men who previously worked in Poland and then returned to Ukraine to participate in the war effort have created workforce shortages in sectors like construction and transportation, thereby creating opportunities for new workers in these fields.

Looking Ahead

The ongoing Russian aggression and conflict in Ukraine have led to a significant influx of refugees into Poland, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the country’s labour market. As this situation evolves, Poland’s entrepreneurs and policymakers must recognise the potential benefits of attracting and retaining Ukrainian (and other foreign) workers. By offering favourable working conditions, reliable support systems, and streamlined policies, Poland can navigate its shifting demographics and enhance its economic prosperity in the long term. Efforts to integrate Ukrainian refugees into Polish society should be coupled with forward-thinking approaches to labour and immigration, contributing to the nation’s workforce and economic growth.

Adrianna Patoka
Justyna Jóźwiak