A Polish recruitment agency has arranged a charter flight bringing Ukrainian workers to Poland, where businesses are trying to find ways to address the growing shortage of migrant workers that large parts of the Polish economy normally rely on.
On Sunday night, the plane landed in Warsaw, carrying 178 Ukrainians destined to work in manufacturing and logistics. These are sectors which have not been considered priorities under the government’s recent relaxation of some border restrictions for Ukrainian workers.
The consular system, which resumed issuing visas on 4 May after suspending operations in mid-March, has prioritised agriculture, horticulture and transportation workers. Other sectors that cannot find enough native workers have had to rely on migrants who managed to secure a permit or visa before the lockdown.
Yet this has been a struggle for some firms, following the exodus of around 150,000 of the million or so Ukrainian workers in Poland – the country’s biggest migrant group – after lockdown was introduced.
Kraków-based recruiters Gremi Personal responded to this shortage by arranging the charter flight. With international passenger flights currently suspended, the endeavour required the agreement of the prime minister’s office and the Civil Aviation Authority (ULC), as well as approval from the Ukrainian side, reports Business Insider.
On its return journey, the plane will be used by the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs to repatriate some its own citizens, reports money.pl.
Gremi Personal says that it is considering organising more such flights, as demand for workers is rising by the day as Poland’s economy gradually moves out of lockdown. “There is a list of reserve workers who want to fly to Poland,” Tomas Bogdevic, head of the recruitment firm, told Business Insider.
“We have signed an open agreement with Ukrainian airlines [UIA] and so, depending on demand, we will be able to bring over more planes,” adds Bogdevic. However, he said that reopening other border crossings will also allow more workers to cross into Poland by land – a much simpler and cheaper alternative.
All of the workers will now have to undergo two weeks in quarantine. Last week the government introduced a scheme allowing migrant agricultural workers to start work during their mandatory two-week quarantine, so long as they are regularly tested. The government has also agreed to cover the testing costs. But this does not apply to workers in other sectors.
🗨️Mam dobre wiadomości dla rolników legalnie zatrudniających cudzoziemców. Za niezbędne testy, wykonywane pracownikom sezonowym przyjeżdżającym z zagranicy, zapłaci budżet państwa – poinformował dziś minister @jkardanowski. Szczegóły #MRiRW➡️https://t.co/aCVDeuCsAy pic.twitter.com/oHSPn60Mpb
— Ministerstwo Rolnictwa i Rozwoju Wsi (@MRiRW_GOV_PL) May 22, 2020
Many other European countries have flown in seasonal labour to help plug shortages. In early April, Germany began bringing in plane-loads of seasonal agricultural workers. In mid-April, a British farming group also chartered a plane to fly in 180 Romanians to help train its domestic workforce of 500 ahead of the picking season, reported the BBC.
Not all such operations have run smoothly. In late April, a plane bringing Ukrainian to the UK was grounded on the tarmac for nine hours after boarding when the Ukrainian aviation authority suddenly withdrew approval for the flight, reports WNP. An intervention by the British embassy eventually helped clear the way.
In recent years Poland has become the biggest EU destination for workers from outside the bloc. In 2018, the last year for which data are available, Poland issued 635,000 first residence permits to non-EU migrants – more than any other member state for the second year running, and representing 20% of all permits issued in the bloc.
The vast majority of these immigrants have been from Ukraine. Last year Poland issued around 1.5 million documents allowing Ukrainians to legally work in Poland, mostly in industry, construction, services and agriculture.
When Poland’s government announced its border closures on 15 March, many migrant workers rushed home. In the two months that followed the border closure, a total of 235,188 Ukrainian citizens left Poland, while 86,714 entered, according to border service data reported by Business Insider.