On 24 February 2022, on-the-ground conflict began between Russia and Ukraine, and civilians have started to leave their homes in Ukraine in search of safety.
To accommodate the influx of refugees, governments across Europe have amended their immigration laws, enforcing emergency legislation for Ukrainian workers and civilians escaping the warzone.
Upheaval of European immigration law
The European Union is leading the way in responding to the refugee crisis, and the bloc has accepted upwards of 3 million Ukrainians so far.
Several European countries have relaxed their entry requirements for Ukrainian nationals, allowing everyone across their borders without needing valid travel documentation or identification. For Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova, the priority is to keep as many people safe as possible. Ukrainians can enter all Schengen countries without a visa where they can remain for 90 days. Ireland and Turkey have also waived their visa requirements.
In Romania, refugees can enter the country with a biometric or simple passport at border crossing points. Anyone wishing to apply for asylum can enter with another form of identification, such as a birth certificate or a national ID card. However, Ukrainians are also being invited to enter the country without any documentation based on declared identity. The same applies to people entering Moldova, Hungary and Poland. In fact, the Polish authorities have announced that nine reception centres will be opening along the Ukraine-Poland border, offering medical care, meals and information for refugees fleeing the war. Poland has already welcomed nearly 500,000 people across its borders.
In Slovakia, Ukrainians can enter without travel documents, but, at present, they can only stay in the country for 90 days. A similar scheme is active in Ireland, where within 90 days, any Ukrainians must regularise their position in the country.
However, EU ministers have agreed that all Ukrainian refugees should have the right to remain in the EU for up to a year without applying for asylum, which can be extended for an additional two years if the war continues. So, Ukrainians are being offered a total of three years of visa-free residence in EU countries.
Invoking emergency directives
Additional to the relaxing of visa requirements and the mass opening of borders, various EU member states have now agreed to invoke the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD). Under this directive, eligible Ukrainians seeking refuge can apply for protection that’ll grant them a one-year residency permit with access to work, study and local benefits including health and welfare. Whilst it’s currently valid until 4 March 2023, the permits are likely to be extendable.
Under the TPD, Ukrainian workers are subject to the labour legislation of the country that they’ve obtained their work permit. So, their rights will vary by country. Provisions for remote work under the TPD haven’t yet been finalised, but this decision is also due shortly.
EU member states can also adopt their own national schemes instead of the TPD. However, if they choose to do so, it must be more favourable and offer more benefits than the TPD. What’s more, some EU countries won’t be subject to the TPD (such as Denmark) but will follow a new law that’s due to pass in March 2022.
The UK shows support
Visa requirements are also being relaxed in the UK for close relatives of UK nationals based in Ukraine, and a visa for Ukrainian family members of British citizens is now free. These new requirements have been adjusted further to apply to an adult parent, grandparent, child over 18 or sibling of a Ukrainian national living in the UK.
The Ukraine Family Scheme grants access to work, study and benefits for up to three years but does, however, require individuals to submit biometric data at a visa application centre.
A new visa sponsorship route will also allow UK-based businesses to bring Ukrainian citizens over to the UK. Whilst it’s not operational yet, the Local Sponsorship Scheme ensures that those who have left their homes in Ukraine have a route to safety in the UK and aims to match people, charities, businesses and community groups to Ukrainians who don’t have any family in the UK. Employers can also offer an intra-country visa where applicable that allows workers to stay in the UK to do an eligible job at their employer’s UK branch.
Any Ukrainians currently on work, study or visit visas in the UK will have their visas extended or given the option to switch to a different visa route.
What can you do to help?
As an employer, it’s not easy to know how to approach something so traumatic and unfamiliar — particularly as the situation changes each day and the future is so uncertain.
CIPD has outlined several measures that employers can take to support both their workers based in the UK, offering them support and resources to safeguard their wellbeing and mental health, but also if you have any employees based in Ukraine.
From an EOR perspective, many factors still remain undecided. However, we’ll continue to work closely with our local partners as local jurisdictions adapt their legislations.
We’re here for your business and your workers based in Ukraine and elsewhere during this time of crisis. If you need any support on managing HR or establishing your business in Ukraine to help those in need, find out more about our employer of record services and discover how we can support you.