IOM Study Sheds Light on Irregular Migration in Ukraine

16 April 2021

From 37,700 to 60,900 migrants can be staying in Ukraine without regular legal status, revealed a study* conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with funding from the European Union upon the request of the State Migration Service of Ukraine.

Experts used several research methods and utilized official data as well as the results of interviews with government officials, leaders of migrant communities, representatives of NGOs and international organizations. The direct interviews were held with 84 migrants from 29 countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the former USSR. Surveys on social networks covered 93 persons from 32 countries around the world.

The results of the qualitative study are not representative for objective reasons; however, several trends were revealed. Migrants frequently come to Ukraine fleeing military conflicts, the threat of persecution, and mass violations of human rights in their own countries. Pull factors to Ukraine were much less significant for respondents when choosing Ukraine as a destination country than push factors from their countries of departure. Low wages and difficult procedures for employment in Ukraine are unattractive to migrant workers from abroad.

Most migrants who are now irregular entered Ukraine legally as tourists or to study but subsequently lost the legal ground to stay in the country. The periods of surveyed migrants’ residence in Ukraine without any documents providing legal grounds to stay varied from a few weeks to six years. Irregular migrants have no chances for official employment and as a result are frequently unable to provide for their basic living needs. At the same time, most migrants do not even know how to submit documents properly, how to obtain a residence permit and a temporary permit, etc. Many problems with the issuance of documents arise from a marriage with a citizen of Ukraine. The established practice requires foreigners who entered the marriage in Ukraine to return to their home country and obtain documents for entry to Ukraine based on family ties. Migrants find this difficult or even impossible to do. Therefore, there are cases when foreigners are married to citizens of Ukraine and have two or three children but live in Ukraine without the necessary documents for lawful residency.

At the same time, according to the migrant respondents, almost a half of irregular migrants would like to regularize their status and stay in Ukraine.

“The results of the study are extremely important for the whole migration governance system in Ukraine,” said Nataliia Naumenko, First Deputy Head of the State Migration Service of Ukraine. “Any further adjustments of the state migration policy need to be fact-based. This study will help stop unfounded speculation on the number of irregular migrants in Ukraine. With the methodology that was developed we will be able to determine the flows of irregular migrants to and from Ukraine, to study the issues they face, and to consider how we can support some categories of migrants in regularizing their stay in Ukraine and to start considering the prospect of a migration amnesty,” she added.

Nataliia Naumenko also reiterated that thanks to the EU-funded IOM-implemented IMMIS project Ukraine has effective databases and information systems to record both regular and irregular migrants.

“As IOM we believe that future developments initiated by the results of this study will certainly lead to the strengthening of dialogue on migration issues, including irregular migration, and related areas including smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings, as well as inclusion of migration concerns in national strategies of economic and social development,” said Elizabeth Warn, Deputy Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine “This goes to the heart of the provisions already foreseen in the Ukraine – EU Association Agreement,” she added.

IOM stands ready to further support Ukrainian state authorities in the policy development, providing expert support and technical assistance on the way to enhanced and human rights-oriented migration management.

IOM recommendations based on the study results include:

  • To abolish the immigration quota and expand the grounds for granting immigration permits based on a long-term regular stay on the territory of Ukraine.
  • To disseminate information about regular entry and stay in Ukraine and return as well as risks and consequences of irregular migration to Ukraine among migration risk countries.
  • To disseminate information on opportunities to receive assistance from international and non-governmental organizations and facilitate the existing programmes supporting voluntary returns.
  • To create conditions for the integration of foreigners residing in Ukraine and expand opportunities for foreigners to acquire legal status through employment. In particular, provide foreign students with the right to employment and staying in the country in case of employment in their speciality.
  • To provide an opportunity to obtain legal status for some irregular migrants, in particular, those who stay in the country for many years, have not committed serious offences, have a family and a job.
  • To conduct a new population census, the results of which will expand the range of approaches in estimating the number of irregular migrant stock.
  • To conduct systematic research to estimate the extent of irregular migration in Ukraine.

* The study “Irregular Migrants in Ukraine” was carried out within the framework of the EU-funded IOM-implemented project “Support for Migration and Asylum Management in Ukraine” (IMMIS).


Available Sources of Information on Irregular Migration, the Need for and Methodology of the Study

Field Phase of the Study: Challenges in the Process and Main Conclusions

Some Characteristics of Irregular Migration Based on Survey Results

Estimation of the Number of Irregular Migrants in Ukraine