EU grants residence and working rights to Ukrainians fleeing conflict

Photo: Niels van der Pas
Pro Ukraine demonstrators in Amsterdam. Photo: Niels van der Pas

European Union countries will grant residence and working rights to Ukrainian citizens fleeing the country following Russia’s invasion in a move unanimously approved by justice and home affairs ministers.

It is the first time the EU has used the ‘temporary protection’ mechanism since its introduction, in 2001, in the aftermath of the conflict in former Yugoslavia.

The emergency mechanism aims to provide immediate support to ‘displaced persons who are not in a position to return to their country of origin’ with reduced border formalities and without applying for asylum.

Ukrainian citizens will be given residence rights in the EU, including the right to work and to benefit of housing, medical assistance and education for children.

These rights will be initially guaranteed for a year and can be extended for up to three years. The European Commission can also propose to end the scheme if the situation allows ‘safe and durable return to Ukraine.

Besides Ukrainian citizens, non-EU nationals or stateless persons benefiting from international protection in Ukraine (for example refugees or asylum seekers), as well as their family members, will be eligible for the scheme.

However, other people who were in Ukraine for a short period, for example students or temporary workers, and are able to return safely to their home country will not be covered by these measures.

Brought home

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said, however, they are ‘being helped out of Ukraine’ and ‘provided with accommodation, food and clothes’ while waiting to be brought home.

The commission has also recommended simplified border procedures, for example lighter checks on vulnerable people like children, flexibility for those arriving without documents, controls at reception facilities instead of at the border and relaxed customs rules so that people can bring personal belonging and pets with them.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than one million people have crossed from Ukraine to EU countries since the conflict begun, on 24 February. Depending on how the situation evolves, it has been estimated between 2.5 and 6.5 million people could be displaced.

Regional help

Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, which are providing immediate support, are expected to receive the vast majority of refugees.

Ukrainians with a biometric passport can already travel to the EU visa-free for up to 90 days under an association agreement signed in 2017. Many are expected to join family members or seek employment through this route.

The temporary protection mechanism is designed to secure the position of those looking for another legal status after the 90 days without going through the complexity of the asylum system, which typically does not allow working for at least six months.

But the decision also drew accusations of ‘double standards’ as the EU could not agree similar terms for refugees from Syria and other conflicts.


German interior minister Nancy Faeser said the plan represents ‘a paradigm shift’ for the EU.

Commissioner Johansson argued ‘millions and millions of refugees will of course cause a lot of challenges to our societies’, but Europe is better prepared than in 2015, she said.

The Netherlands has so far decided on a moratorium on decisions concerning pending asylum applications by Ukrainians so that they ‘do not run the risk of having to return to their home country after a negative decision, and they maintain their right to reception during the process.’

A similar approach has been taken in other European countries, such as Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland.

The Dutch immigration service will also deal ‘leniently’ with regular visa applications by Ukrainians, for example by extending visa periods.

Further information are available at this link.


Meanwhile the Dutch government has urged regional safety boards to identify housing for Ukrainian refugees as a matter of urgency, as people started to arrive.

The Dutch local authorities association VNG is compiling a register of locations identified so far and a number of private initiatives, such as Onderdak Ukraine, RoomforUkraine and Takecarebnb, offering accommodation to Ukrainians are also springing up.

Renée Frissen, director of OpenEmbassy, a group that helps newcomers, especially those from a refugee background, integrate in the Netherlands, told they are now building a network of Ukrainian speaking people who can help those arriving dealing with healthcare, jobs and childcare.

The group is also encouraging Ukrainians to apply for highly skilled migrant visas (the EU blue card), to work for example in start-ups.


‘In the Netherlands we are highly organised to support people from a welfare state perspective, but we have a tendency to look down on those who need help. It is much better to value people for their talent,’ Frissen said.

‘People want to participate and everyone is on board in Europe, so I hope that people will stay open and keep this approach when we discuss our vision on migration and integration of people who are further way,’ she added.

Other EU countries are also defining their reception capacity and procedures. The Czech Republic and Estonia have lifted coronavirus measures upon entry, while Malta requires Ukrainians to quarantine.


Ireland, which is not part of the Schengen area, has lifted visa requirements for Ukrainians. The UK is facilitating the arrival of Ukrainians family members of UK citizens or anyone with permanent residence in the UK, but still requires a visa.

The French government has requested local councils to identify accommodation option and is developing a website where people and associations can volunteer or offer support.

Germany is also preparing a reception plan with Berlin’s mayor saying there will be beds for 20,000 in the region.

People have been waiting refugees at Berlin’s station to offer accommodation too.

Ukrainians can travel for free on most European railways, including France, Germany and Belgium. All public transportation is free for them in the Netherlands.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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