COVID-19 and the situation of migrants in Poland: Challenges in home schooling and the work situation

By Ewa Jastrzębska and Paulina Legutko-Kobus (SGH Warsaw School of Economics)

In his position dated 13 May 2020, the Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects did do not affect everyone equally. Regularly excluded persons and groups, including refugees and immigrants, are particularly exposed to the consequences of pandemic-related restrictions, such as closed borders and the inability to apply for international protection. In the case of Poland, we see challenges for migrants in home schooling and in the work situation.

One of the areas of exclusion of foreigners, especially children, is home (remote) schooling (which started in Poland on 25 March). Access to home schooling is hindered for children staying in foreigner centers, guarded facilities and those applying for international protection. The main challenge, especially shortly after switching to distance learning, was the lack of computer hardware and equipment for video and audio communication with the teacher. The situation has improved over time owing to citizens’ campaigns and not as a result of systemic solutions. The pandemic has also prevented a significant number of foreign children from participating in extra Polish language classes provided for in the relevant regulations (this is partly managed by cultural assistants, most often volunteers from community or civil society organisations). The deepening of the educational gap among foreign children is also attributed to the lack of or inadequate support from their parents in home schooling. The possible reasons are:

1) the lack of ICT skills and competences (moreover, online communication tools provided by teachers are only in Polish),

2) language barrier: parents do not speak Polish well enough to support their children’s remote education. Parents’ digital exclusion and insufficient conduct of the Polish language also translate into the lack of communication with teachers.

Another challenging area for migrants during the pandemic is the situation on the labour market (especially since many of them operate in the shadow economy, and obtaining work permits during the pandemic is much more difficult).

In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, when the government announced the freezing of the economy and the sealing of state borders, migrants, especially Ukrainians working in Poland, started to leave the country in great numbers. Reasons for leaving Poland were the loss of a job, uncertain future, and vague and unclear communication and information from the government (including the lack of information in languages other than Polish at the beginning of the lock down) coinciding with unclear government messages from Kiev.

It is common property that the “defrosting” of the economy without migrants returning will not go smoothly (about 90% of Ukrainians who left Poland after the lockdown work in catering, services, and the hospitality industry). This is already evident in the agricultural sector which is lacking workforce. For this reason, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Chief Sanitary Inspector issued Guidelines for Agricultural Producers Employing Foreigners for Seasonal Work in the Face of SARS COV-2 (Warsaw, 8 May 2020).

Entrepreneurs are encouraged to get acquainted with the document by the IRIS Ethical Recruitment, COVID-19: Guidance for employers and business to enhance migrant worker protection during the current health crisis. The Responsible Business Forum, a renowned organisation promoting the subject of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), has also drawn up guidelines on how business can support employees from Ukraine.

In a sociological study conducted on 9-15 April, foreign employees, who stayed in Poland for the period of the pandemic, clearly respond (85% of respondents) that they prefer to stay in Poland because of their earnings and work opportunities. 26.6% of them admit that they were forced to change their sector of employment because of the pandemic. The surveyed foreigners feel safer in Poland than in their own country (72.5%) and, just like Poles, they are mostly concerned about losing their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic (57.8%).

In conclusion, the situation in the country is dynamic and it is worth waiting for further government decisions regarding restrictions on mobility, especially considering the important role of foreigners (e.g., from Ukraine) for the domestic labour market.