When the Russian military launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) responded immediately by amending their legal framework to provide shelter for Ukrainian refugees. These neighboring nations not only provided immediate humanitarian help, but also changed their immigration law to allow Ukrainian refugees to work and live in their country.
The EU also adjusted its legal framework, by activating the Temporary Protection Directive (Directive 2001/55/EC), which was originally introduced in 2001 in the aftermath of the Balkan war to address the challenges of accepting a massive influx of refugees.
One year later, with no end to the conflict in sight, many CEE countries have extended their protection of Ukrainian refugees. The current status of protection in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania is summarized below.
The temporary protection system has been in place in the Czech Republic since March 2022, allowing Ukrainian refugees to stay in the Czech Republic, and granting them free access to the Czech labor market, education, and the national health insurance system.
Currently, Ukrainian refugees can extend their temporary protection status until March 31, 2024, provided that they register online by March 31, 2023, and present themselves at the Ministry of the Interior to have the visa tag affixed by September 30, 2023, at the latest.
Over the past year, various regulations have been adopted to integrate Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic, in particular in the area of social security, health insurance and emergency housing.
In the coming weeks, the Czech Parliament is expected to adopt an amendment to the law to change the conditions for providing humanitarian benefits to Ukrainian refugees.
The temporary protection system, which allows Ukrainian refugees to stay in Hungary and gives them free access to the Hungarian labor market, education, and the national health insurance system, has been in effect in Hungary since March 2022.
The current temporary protection status of Ukrainian refugees is valid until March 4, 2023. The protection will be automatically extended for one year.
The Hungarian Government has issued various regulations for the integration of Ukrainian refugees in Hungary, especially in the areas of social security, health insurance and education.
Under the temporary protection regime, Ukrainian refugees have free access to the labor market without having to obtain a work permit in advance.
Polish legislation recognizes the legal stay of Ukrainian citizens who fled the war until August 24, 2023 (18 months from the breakout of the war). While many expect this period to be prolonged, no extension has yet been announced as of the time of writing, If the period is not prolonged, Ukrainian citizens will have to apply for a temporary stay permit in Poland. The application should be filed at least two months prior to the end of their current legal stay.
It is worth mentioning that if a Ukrainian citizen leaves the territory of Poland for a period of more than 30 days, their legal stay is automatically terminated. However, this does not apply to individuals directed to perform work or services abroad by entities operating in Poland.
Polish employers can very easily arrange the employment of a Ukrainian citizen with a legal stay in Poland. All the employer needs to do is to inform the relevant district labor office within 14 days of the date the employee starts work.
When it comes to people employed in Ukraine, a relocation or secondment can be implemented through a suspension or termination of the Ukrainian contract and subsequent employment with the new EU employer. When planning relocation, employers must assess if the Ukrainian contracts are to be maintained, terminated or suspended, as Ukrainian law provides for a range of legal requirements for each of the scenarios. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a legal counsel who can help you choose the best strategy.
The temporary protection system has been in place in Romania since March 2022 and is due to last until March 4, 2023. It can be renewed subsequently for two consecutive periods of six months each, i.e., until March 2024.
As part of the temporary protection system, Ukrainian refugees benefit from access to the labor market, without having to obtain a work permit in advance.
Ukrainian refugees receive free medical assistance and appropriate treatment for emergency situations in the Romanian medical system. They are included in the national public health programs and are eligible to receive medicines and access to the basic package of medical services.
Furthermore, the Ukrainian refugees settled in Romania have access to statutory social assistance benefits upon request. As a result, if they meet the eligibility conditions, they can benefit from state child allowance, social assistance, and family support allowance.
The Slovak government changed its immigration laws almost immediately after the onset of the war to provide Ukrainian refugees with temporary shelter including the right to work, travel, attend school and access healthcare. Subsidies for accommodation are also available.
The Slovak Government extended the protection period until March 4, 2024 with the possibility of another extension. Although there is no specific change to the Slovak legislation in this respect, the Slovak Government recently passed an amendment to the Commercial Code, which will enable any entrepreneurs to establish a company in Slovakia faster and easier. While this amendment is meant to support all entrepreneurs in Slovakia, it will make it easier for Ukrainians to start local businesses.
The original wave of help in the neighboring CEE countries was focused on providing immediate humanitarian aid to individuals displaced by war and integrating them into society. At the onset of the invasion, Dentons worked with many companies to facilitate the emergency relocation of their employees and adjust their work contracts accordingly.
After one year of war, many businesses are shifting their focus to long term solutions, which often include plans to move their Ukrainian operations to other markets. With this in mind, in recent months Dentons has been assisting numerous clients with the relocation of entire businesses, including supply chains, employees, etc. to other CEE countries.
By Tomas Bilek, Aleksandra Minkowicz-Flanek, Tiberiu Csaki, Stanislav Durica, Partners and Argentina Rafail, Magda Slomska, Counsels, Dentons