Last year, OpenEmbassy conducted action research to support Ukrainian newcomers and gain insight into how the system works for this particular group and how policies could be improved. Around the one-year mark of the full-escalated war that Russia started in Ukraine, the Ministry of Social Affairs in the Netherlands (hereinafter referred to as the Ministry) published their lessons learned (in Dutch) about Ukrainian newcomers in the Netherlands. In the article below, we compare the insights and provide a preview of our report, which will be published later in March.
Recommendations based on the report
First of all, support under the Temporary Protection Directive, rather than under the Civic Integration Act (Wet inburgering), offers the opportunity to observe how alternative policies better support newcomers in building their lives in the Netherlands. A striking example is the immediate right to work, as opposed to the restrictions that the government imposes on asylum seekers and their ability to work.
After eight months, 46% of Ukrainian newcomers were in the workforce, compared to 3.8% after one year for newcomers with an asylum permit.
Many of the recommendations below can be adapted for more humane and effective policies for all newcomers. We share the observation that the Ministry repeats multiple times that lessons learned should be integrated into policies for all newcomers. As the Ministry plans to execute longitudinal research about Ukrainian newcomers, future insights can feed into better long-term policies. Although insights are becoming clearer, there are no specific commitments yet on which policies should be altered for asylum seekers and permit holders. We will await this next step in the coming year and are committed to advising accordingly.
- Using lessons learned for policies to support all newcomers;
- Taking specific actions to integrate these lessons for all newcomers.
Currently, we are at a precarious tipping point as we move from short-term crisis solutions to long-term structural policies to support newcomers under the Temporary Protection Directive. Research has shown that in the transition from crisis to structural action, there is a high risk of losing valuable practical knowledge and insufficient involvement of experts on the ground.
The danger is that communities will fall apart, that the wheel will be reinvented (but worse), and that informal authorities will not be heard and will therefore leave, resulting in less effective solutions. In our action research and community actions, we were constantly amazed by the self-organizing power of the displaced Ukrainian community.
Many people supported their fellow compatriots, as they should have a prominent place in the coming months and perhaps years.
Besides community-led initiatives to learn from, local citizens’ initiatives are a vital source of knowledge for making and executing the right policies.
Such partnerships also include possibilities for funding (through local governments or funding partners) these initiatives, as they should be equipped for the long run as well. It is good to see that the Ministry learned from communities and local initiatives for policy improvements, although this should be practiced across the board.
What OpenEmbassy recommends for long term solutions:
- Creating an infrastructure through which those who will draft structural policies will learn from the people who were involved during the immediate response to the crisis;
- Hiring newcomers, setting up an expert pool, and create new policies including the consent and input from the displaced people;
- Recognizing citizens’ initiatives as the vital source of knowledge for making and executing the right policies.
Granting Ukrainian newcomers the immediate right to work had a positive effect on the amount of people entering the Dutch workforce. Again the shift from short term to long term is important to take into account, as people will likely shift from easy and accessible jobs to jobs that suit their qualifications, background and ambition. This has also been recognized by the Ministry, as the plan is to improve the match between qualifications and a suitable job.
Through OpenEmbassy’s research and community work we have identified there is a strong desire among the community to start a business. Regulations that prevent this will be reviewed in the first half of 2023, as the Ministry identifies the accompanying risk of exploitation through false self-employment.
What OpenEmbassy recommends regarding work-related questions:
- Take the shift from short term to long term jobs into account by adhering to people’s qualifications, background and ambition;
- Allow the possibility for self-employment while implementing mechanisms to prevent exploitation.
A fundamental requirement for supporting people to work is childcare. As the current law on childcare is adjusted, there should also be enough room to provide childcare for the children of newcomer parents who want to work or start their civic integration. Ukrainian newcomers have mainly used informal childcare arrangements, but the Ministry wants to promote formal childcare by emphasizing childcare allowance. This raises the question of how effective financial arrangements will be if waiting lists become longer and current arrangements are not suitable. In these times, the self-organizing ability of newcomers should be supported rather than limited by restricting policies. For instance, the concept of ‘gastouderschap’ could be simplified and made less expensive to execute. There are also examples from abroad to take into account.
As part of the solution, newcomers with a pedagogic background could be enabled to work in the childcare sector. It is good to see that the Ministry has announced that they will research whether it is possible to create a pathway for newcomers towards the childcare sector. Lastly, employers could also be seen as stakeholders in this matter. A corporate or a group of SME’s could set up private daycare. With the right amount of safety rules, there’s room in between regulations to organize playgroups or after-school programs as an informal way of childcare.
What OpenEmbassy recommends regarding child care-related questions:
- Supporting the self-organizing ability of newcomers through concepts like ‘gastouderschap’ as alternative solutions to a sector suffering from labor shortages;
- Enabling newcomers with a pedagogic background to work in the childcare sector;
- Promoting private daycare initiatives to be set up by employers.
An important aspect as we move from short-term to long-term is the provision of Dutch language facilities. We recommend the Ministry to map out the need for additional provisions for language next to what is already being offered by municipalities, language schools, and NGOs. It is reassuring to see that the Ministry has granted 15 million euros to provide for additional language facilities, especially as they indicate the importance of language related to long-term work opportunities. Working combined with learning the language paves the way for more sustainable and stable job opportunities that align with the experience and ambition of Ukrainian newcomers.
What Open Embassy recommends:
- Providing additional language provisions related to learning the language within a given context such as the workfloor.
You can read more about our findings in our report ‘Final Report: action research Ukraine’ (in Dutch), which will be published later this month. In this publication, we touch more extensively on different themes surrounding the support for Ukrainian newcomers. Besides the themes mentioned above, we present our findings regarding shelter and housing, mental health, education, and protection of third-country nationals from Ukraine.
Pepijn Tielens adviseur/onderzoeker
Jolien de Vries actieonderzoeker
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash