Migration between Belarus and the EU: present situation and expected future

Migration between Belarus and the EU: present situation and expected future

In September 2013 - June 2014 the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, in cooperation with the research centers based in Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, took part in the international research project "Forecasting migration between the EU, V4 and Eastern Europe: impact of visa abolition". The project's aim is to examine migration patterns in Eastern European states bordering the EU (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus) in the perspective of expected emigration to the EU (with particular emphasis on emigration to V4) after possible visa abolition. It focuses on qualitative and quantitative estimation of migration stocks of Eastern European states to the EU and V4 in the forthcoming 10 years. The project was funded by Visegrad Fund.

As a part of the research, the BISS conducted a two-round Delphi survey on migration trends between Belarus and the EU/V4 among Belarusian and international migration experts. The main results of the survey are:

■ All surveyed experts named Russia as the top destination country for Belarusian labour migrants. The Delphi experts assessed the current migration stock of Belarusians in Russia at 542,000, with a 167,000-strong standard deviation (as of February 2014). The next most important destinations states were listed in the following order: Poland, the USA, Germany, Ukraine and the Baltic states.

■ The experts who took part in the Delphi survey assessed the overall number of Belarusian migrants in the EU as a whole at around 150,000 with a 70,000-strong standard deviation (as of February 2014). The number of Belarusian migrants in the V4 countries was assessed at 70,000, with quite a large deviation in views (37,000). The assessment of the Belarusian migrant stock in the EU given by the Delphi experts correlates well with the available statistics of the receiving countries, if Belarusian holders of long-term national Polish visas are taken into account. There is a consensus among the Delphi experts that most migrants of Belarusian origin reside abroad and perform their economic activities legally. On average, the Delphi experts surveyed agree that the share of regular migrants among the total number of Belarusian residents in the top receiving countries exceeds 80%. Most experts surveyed under the Delphi research (13 out of 16) believe that in the next ten years emigration flows from Belarus will increase, at least slightly.

■ There are some assertions as to the profile of Belarusian residents in the EU that most experts surveyed under the Delphi research agree upon: migrants are young, many of them work in the service sector but also in construction, household and agriculture. According to the Delphi experts surveyed, the strongest migration pull factors are higher wages and generally high living standards in destination countries and the presence of migration networks, i.e. residing/employed relatives or close friends, or at least the existence of a strong group of compatriots in a destination country.

■ The experts agree that abolition of the visa regime for short-term stay between Belarus and the EU is not a near-term perspective. Asked when visa-regime between the EU and Belarus would be removed, most of the Belarusian experts surveyed under the Delphi research on migration trends (11) believed this may become possible in 7-10 years, while only four respondents considered this feasible within a shorter perspective of 4-6 years. Although the removal of the visa regime does not imply an open labour market, experts believe that visa regime abolition would likely provoke more attempts by Belarusians to place themselves on the EU labour market. Two main positive impacts for Belarus arising from future migration to the EU seen by the experts are delivery of remittances and the return of experienced migrants that would contribute to the growth in entrepreneurship. At the same time, almost half of respondents hold the view that increasing migration flows to the EU would not bring any positive impacts for the country.

■ Acknowledging that Belarus loses more than it acquires from emigration, experts nevertheless do not view restriction of migration as an easy way out. On the contrary, they believe that the migration policies of the destination countries, the V4 and the EU as a whole should be liberalised, circular migration facilitated, and that EU countries should assist their Eastern neighbours in undertaking economic reforms and developing human capital.

■ The Delphi experts recommend that V4 states open the educational system to foreign students, launch additional programs of cultural and scientific exchanges, and demonstrate a friendlier approach towards visa applicants in the V4 consulates abroad. Experts recommend that Belarusian authorities, in order to make migration more beneficial for all sides, should sign the readmission agreement with the EU (such negotiations are indeed in progress), and create more favorable conditions for remittances transfers via official channels. They should furthermore develop border cooperation inter alia by launching local border traffic regimes with Lithuania and Poland and establish better coordination between state institutions dealing with migration. The implementation of socioeconomic and democratic reforms in order to secure long-term sustainable economic development was also highly recommended by the experts as a measure for the Belarusian authorities to undertake.

There is no clear link between emigration from Belarus and political and visa relationships between the EU and Belarus. Potential irregular migrants do not have difficulties in preparing a proper set of supporting documents in order to enter the Schengen area legally on a valid visa with the aim of overstaying it. There are good reasons to believe that the existing visa regime between the EU and Belarus does not serve as an effective barrier to irregular migration. It is instead more of an obstacle for bona fide travelers. Variations in the numbers of issued visas in Belarus during the last decade have not resulted in any significant changes in permanent or labour migration patterns of Belarusians in the EU per se. The increase in temporary labour migrants and permanent settlers in Poland over recent years was largely a result of the introduction of changes in Polish national legislation which facilitate employment of temporary workers and ease labour market access for foreign graduates and holders of the Card of the Pole. Thus, the visa regime has not had an apparent impact on either permanent or labour out-migration trends from Belarus to the EU.

As part of the research project, an econometric model based on demographic and economic data was constructed to obtain projections for the future development of migrant stocks from Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova in the EU in 2014-2050. Three types of possible scenarios – low, medium, high – are presented for each of the three countries until the year of 2050 with a simulated shock of introduction free movement of labour in 2015. No major increase in the number of Belarusian nationals holding residence permits in the EU MS is to be expected in short and medium-term perspectives.

Total Belarusian resident stock 2008-2050 – 3 scenarios, 27 EU countries and Norway, impact of hypothetical introduction of free movement of labour in 2015.

In the more likely medium scenario, a considerable increase can be expected only in 2026-2032 and may amount to around 500,000 residence permits in 2032. In subsequent years migrants stocks should stabilize. It is only the high scenario, with very pessimistic economic forecasts for Belarus and a growing Belarusian diaspora in the EU.

Full description of the research project can be found here http://www.osw.waw.pl/en/projekty/forecasting-migration-between-eu-v4-and-eastern-europe-impact-visa-abolition

The book published with the results of the research project http://www.osw.waw.pl/sites/default/files/migration_report_0.pdf