Poland in two minds over Ukraine’s efforts to bring conscription-age men home

Poland in two minds over Ukraine’s efforts to bring conscription-age men home
Ukraine has banned consulates from renewing passports of military aged men living outside the country in an effort to get some of those that fled to return and join the army. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 26, 2024

Poland is ready to help Ukraine bring conscription-age men home after Kyiv stepped up its mobilisation effort, a top government official said this week. But hundreds of thousands of people leaving Poland could be a huge problem for the economy, analysts say.

Some 300 Ukrainians blocked a passport service point in central Warsaw on April 24 in protest against what they say is their government trying to force them to fight Russia.

Ukraine has recently restricted consular services to men aged between 18 and 60 - the limits of conscription age - so that the only way for them to get their travel or other documents issued or renewed is to travel back to Ukraine, where a new mobilisation law enters force on May 18.

The lack of access to consular services means Ukrainian will now be unable to validate documents such as passports and driving licenses abroad. That, in turn, will make it next to impossible to find legal employment in the EU. Holders of valid passports who will not be able to renew their driving licenses will not find jobs as taxi drivers or truckers - both very popular with Ukrainians in Poland.

“I am not sending my son to become canon fodder,” a protesting Ukrainian woman told reporters at the protest. “You give me my documents and go away to Ukraine and fight!” another said to an employee of the passport service point.

Following Kyiv’s decision, Polish authorities have been caught between their pledges to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s aggression and the stark reality of Poland’s labour market, which lacks workers.

"Any support is possible," Poland’s deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said in response to a question by Polsat News about what Poland would do if Ukraine asked for help with getting men who lose the right to remain in Poland after to return home.

“I think many Poles are outraged when they see young Ukrainian men in hotels and cafes, and they hear how much effort we have to make to help Ukraine,” Kosiniak-Kamysz also said.

From an economic standpoint, however, the matter is much less straightforward.

“[Ukrainians’] contribution to the state budget is significant. Today, I cannot imagine the Polish labour market without Ukrainian citizens. I think this would be a very serious problem for us from the point of view of companies’ competitiveness,” deputy Home Affairs Minister Maciej Duszczyk told the parliament recently.

“The key is [to know] how many men who are professionally active in Poland have expiring residence permits or passports,” Andrzej Kubisiak, deputy head of the Polish Economic Institute, a state think-tank, told gazeta.pl.

It remains unclear what Poland can actually do once thousands of Ukrainian men lose their right to remain in Poland but not yield to their home country’s regulations.

Since Russia’s aggression of Ukraine in February 2022, Poland has granted temporary protection status to some 950,000 Ukrainians, the second-largest number after Germany, according to Eurostat data. Most of them are women and children.

According to data from Poland’s social insurance body ZUS, nearly 400,000 Ukrainian men work in Poland. Many of them had been living in Poland for years before the war.