Few Ukrainians find work in Belgium

Few Ukrainians find work in Belgium
Credit: Belga, James Arthur Kekiere

Of the approximately 50,000 Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Belgium since the start of March, few have succeeded in finding lasting employment in the country, according to Belgian newspaper L’Écho.

In Flanders, a total of 3,356 Ukrainian refugees approached the Flemish Service for Employment and Vocational Training (VDAB), of which only 543 (16%) ultimately found a job.

This trend is visible in all of Belgium’s regions. In Wallonia, just 170 Ukrainian refugees found employment through Le Forem (13.5%). Statistics are not yet available for the Brussels-Capital Region but the fraction is likely to be similar.

“Before looking for work, (Ukrainian refugees) must first make sure that they have accommodation and childcare if they have children. Perhaps they want to join acquaintances or a member of the family in Wallonia or in Flanders,” Jan Gatz, a spokesperson for Actiris, explained.

However, not all refugees who come to Belgium necessarily apply for jobs with a regional employment agency. Many Ukrainians find jobs through recruitment agencies, via informal support networks, or through friends and family.

Ukrainians receiving temporary protection in Belgium are entitled to full access to the Belgian labour market. Many are choosing not to use this right and prefer to return home.

Over 300 refugees have gone through the official process to deregister from their commune and leave the country. The total number of refugees leaving Belgium is likely much higher, as the process of deregistering is long-winded and many simply leave Belgium without notifying local authorities.

Belgium no paradise for Ukrainian jobseekers

Belgian federal authorities are making a concerted effort to keep Ukrainian refugees within the Belgian labour market. Belgium’s former Asylum and Migration Minister, Sammy Mahdi, stated that the government was seeking to make it possible for Ukrainian refugees to continue to work in the country after their status of temporary protection expires.

Ukrainian workers are statistically highly skilled and should fit well in the Belgian labour market. According to statistics from June from the VDAB, 58% of refugees registered with the employment agency were classified as “highly skilled.”

Ukraine is known for its once-booming IT sector and developing retail sector. 20% of Ukrainian job candidates in Flanders expressed interest in business logistics, retail, and the ICT sector. Another 15% wanted to find employment in industry, and 10% in healthcare and education.

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As is the case for refugees from many countries, language issues remain a major obstacle to integrating Ukrainians into the job market.

According to Statbel, the Belgian statistics agency, not having a grasp of one of Belgium’s national languages is the biggest barrier for non-Belgians to finding employment.

The Federal Government, as well as several universities and colleges, already offer language courses for Ukrainian refugees. However, the impact of these classes is unlikely to be observed in the labour market for quite a while. In total, Actiris has already enacted 280 language-skills checks to check for eligibility for free French and Dutch lessons for Ukrainian refugees.

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