Brussels, 6 April 2021

EaP CSF Policy paper: Impact of COVID-19 on Labour Migration from the EaP countries to the EU

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted the international migration. When the pandemic hit, many migrant workers from the Eastern Partnership (EaP) region were stranded in foreign countries without work and unable to support their families back home. This policy paper provides a thorough analysis of how the current health crisis affected the migration flows and what are the policy responses of the EaP governments and EU member states.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the return of approximately one-third of migrants coming from the EaP region. Before the crisis, increasing outflows were registered in the region, being affected by human capital depletion. Roughly 16% of the EaP population lives abroad, where Armenia (33%) and Moldova (28%) have the region’s largest emigrant populations. The policy paper affirms that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing vulnerabilities of the region’s economies and labour markets. Dependent on remittances, many affected households faced exposure to poverty, with returning workers having difficulties finding new jobs.

Moreover, the EaP governments were rather slow in their policy response to the integration of returning working migrants. Despite some measures having been taken, central and local governments still lack targeted comprehensive policies for returning migrants. Hence, the paper recommends the EaP governments to elaborate and ensure the implementation of a coherent and coordinated policy on migration to EU countries. Moreover, EaP governments should develop professional programmes for returning migrants in industries with potential labour force shortages.

The policy paper highlights that COVID-19 revealed significant dependence on EaP migrant workers within essential sectors of the economy in the EU member states. The migration flows will never be quite the same again following the COVID-19 pandemic but it is not likely the years of ‘brain drain’ from the EaP countries will be reversed. In the case of the EaP, some migrants that have not returned to the host country would be ready to emigrate to another EU country post-COVID. Thus, EaP governments should enhance circular migration programmes to safeguard the premises of ‘decent work’, to maximise the benefits of well-organised seasonal migration, and to protect migrants from exploitation in foreign labour markets.

Available for download

EaP CSF COVID-19 Policy Paper on Impact of COVID-19 on Labour Migration in the EaP region