Friday, May 20, 2016


While Algerian and Moroccan migrant women live mostly in a few EU countries – France, Spain and, in the case of Moroccans, also Italy – Ukrainian women are present in a wider spectrum of destinations in the European Union (see Figure 3). Their numbers are particularly high in Italy (168,000 in 2013) as well as in Germany and Poland (about 140,000 in each country). However, we decided to take the case of Ukrainians in Poland as to allow for comparisons with the other three cases under study. The long tradition of migration of Ukrainian women to Poland must be understood against the background of the economic decline of the country, since the 1990s. In this context, women have taken the role of breadwinners required to support often unemployed husbands and school-age children.25 The mobility between Ukraine and Poland has very often taken the shape of temporary migration, facilitated by historical ties, geographical proximity and favourable policies for border crossing.26 From the policy point of view, the present situation is the last stage in a complex evolution of different arrangements. Flows between 1945 and 1989 were entirely regulated by state apparatuses, were mutual agreements and the result of diverse mobility programmes within the COMECON framework (e.g. tourism, student exchanges, cross-border employment, military dislocations, etc.) During the 1990s, and especially after the non-visa agreement of 1996, increasing mobility between Ukraine and Poland developed.27 This is also the time of the so-called suitcase traders who were very active across the Ukraine-Poland border from the mid-1950s.28 This regular movement between the two countries was virtually halted in 2003, when Polish migration policy had to adjust to the standards of the European Union, which required the introduction of visa requirements for non-EU nationals. At present, the legal framework for the entrance of Ukrainians is relatively liberalised: in 2006 Poland decided to gradually liberalise the legislation on employment of third country nationals. This was achieved, on the one hand, by facilitating the issuing of work permits, and, on the other hand, by expanding the catalogue of nationalities who, under certain conditions, are allowed to take employment in Poland without necessarily holding a permit, as in the case of EU eastern neighbours including Russia. In 2008, the Agreement on the Local Border Traffic with Ukraine was concluded, which facilitated the mobility of people living on the Ukrainian border, including the many women who were seeking employment in the expanding domestic and care sector of Polish cities. The reduction in the number of those counted as Ukrainians (although born in what was formerly Poland), together with the fact that the entrance of these Ukrainian workers was not registered after 2008, might explain why the official number of Ukrainian women migrants is decreasing (see Figure 4). Yet it is a matter of fact that their presence in the domestic and care sectors, as well as in Polish society more generally, has increased. In relation to the temporary migration, which characterised the mobility pattern of this group, scholars have argued that migrants from Ukraine have little interest in, or the possibility of, settling in Poland because of economic, legal and cultural constraints. Their aim is, rather, to improve their living conditions at home. For this reason, Ukrainian migrants perceive their migration as a temporary activity, additional to their work at home. This has resulted in a lasting phenomenon of temporary trips and repeated mobility. Some of the Ukrainian domestic workers circulating to and from Poland make use of tourist visas in order to enter the country and work irregularly.29 They are generally live out and do cleaning jobs. Polish scholars point to the risks related to the undeclared character of this work, the structural conditions of the sector and the limited opportunities for mobility within it.30 Ukrainian circular migration has been defined as “incomplete migration,” characterised by short-termism and the unstructured departure of individuals in search of immediate profit rather than being a structured project.31 Along the same lines, Marta Kindler and Monika Szulecka have emphasised the importance assigned by Ukrainians to the ties with their country of origin as a result of the obstacles that they face in the host country.32 Thus we believe that the case of Ukrainian women in Poland is an example of the negotiations taking place around women’s work on the borders of the EU, with the formation of a gendered and ethnicised labour force to be employed in the lowest strata of the European labour market. While Polish women still engage in temporary and permanent migration to Germany, the United Kingdom and other western European countries where they mainly take up domestic and care work in private households, Ukrainian women are doing the same in Poland.33 The overlapping of these different circuits of women’s mobilities denotes the increasing stratification of labour markets opportunities for migrant women. If gendered occupations such as domestic work still play a major role, this is however split into jobs with different entitlements from the point of view of rights and labour conditions. Women on the borders of the EU, as in the case of the Ukrainians, are included in a hierarchical way in this market compared with women holding citizenship from a member country, by being allowed to enter into it only in the most precarious and invisible way, namely as flexible, undocumented privately hired service workers.

25 Suzanne LaFont, “One step forward, two steps back: women in the postcommunist states”, in Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2 (June 2001), p. 203-220; Jacqui True, Gender, Globalization, and Postsocialism. The Czech Republic after Communism, New York, Columbia University Press, 2003.
 26 Aleksandra Grzymała-Kazłowska and Marek Okólski, “Influx and Integration of Migrants in Poland in the Early XXI Century”, in CMR Working Papers, No. 50 (November 2003),; Agata Górny et al., Immigration to Poland. Policy, Employment, Integration, Warsaw, Scholar, 2010. 
27 Krystyna Iglicka and Agnieszka Weinar, “Ukrainian Migration in Poland from the Perspective of Polish Policies and Systems’ Theory”, in Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3 (2008), p. 356-365. 
28 Dariusz Stola, “Two Kinds of Quasi-Migration in the Middle Zone: Central Europe as a Space for Transit Migration and Mobility for Profit”, in Claire Wallace and Dariusz Stola (eds.), Patterns of Migration in Central Europe, London and New York, Palgrave, 2001, p. 84-104, 

29 Krystyna Iglicka, Katarzyna Gmaj and Wojciech Borodzicz-Smoliński, Circular Migration Patterns. Migration between Ukraine and Poland, San Domenico di Fiesole, European University Institute, 2011,
30 Marta Kindler, “The relationship to the employer in migrant’s eyes: the domestic work Ukrainian migrant women in Warsaw”, in Cahiers de l’Urmis, No. 12 (June 2009), 31 Marek Okólski, “Recent Trends in International Migration. Poland 1997”, in CMR Working Papers, No. 19 (October 1998),
 32 Marta Kindler and Monika Szulecka, “The Economic Integration of Ukrainian and Vietnamese Migrant Women in the Polish Labour Market”, in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4 (2013), p. 649-671.
33 Ewa Palenga-Möllenbeck, “Care Chains in Eastern and Central Europe: Male and Female Domestic Work at the Intersections of Gender, Class, and Ethnicity”, in Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4 (2013), p. 364-383.

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