This is the second year in a row that the number of first-time residence permits issued in the European Union exceeds three million, and 2017 even shows a slight increase in the number of third-country nationals entering the EU compared to 2016. But there is a turn in the trends, and surprises are lurking in the latest numbers.
The Polish-Ukranian process trumps all
Not even Germany issued as many residence permits as Poland; More than every fifth permit-holder (22% of them to be exact) starts a new life in Poland, that is 683,000 people. The charts below are based on the number of so-called first-time permit-holders. The term covers those receiving either their first permit or requested a permit six months after the expiry of their previous one, therefore the data does not cover extensions.
The chart above - with the top 10 countries of origin - show the shocking majority of the Ukranian permit-holders: there are three times as many of them as the second largest group, the Syrians.
The chart also shows they don't tend to wander far - the majority of them stops at neighbouring Poland. It's important to note that this is only the number of residence-permit holders, the group of illegal Ukranian migrant workers who are in the EU without visas (as tourists) could be much higher, and is likely to increase as education in Ukraine is dwindling, but there is still a well-educated, young segment of society that can learn languages, works for cheap, and assimilates easily, therefore is likely to leave the country for the better opportunities they can find to the west.
Immigrants from Ukraine are not arriving as refugees, despite the war-torn eastern part of the country. Most of them are in the EU with residence permits for the purpose of employment, the number one residence purpose in 2017. That is the most significant change; While the most popular purpose of residence was asylum in 2016, that fell back to the third place by 2017, with two-thirds of all permits issued for employment.
The number of asylum-based residence permits decreased by almost 14% over a year, while the share of employment-based permits went up by 18%, although permits based on family-related reasons also increased by 6.5% - making it the second largest category - and while that group could be tied to both refugees and employment-based permit holders, they are more likely to be related to the asylum-seekers that received their permits in the preceding years.
Family members to the west, workers to the east
The most common residence purposes show a noticeable divide on the map:
It is clear that in Southern, Western, and Northern Europe the most common residence purpose is family reunification. This is most likely attributable to the large number of asylum seekers in previous years, whose families are now catching up to them, while Austria and Germany still issue the most residence permits to refugees, just like Bulgaria. As for the member states joining the EU during the 2004 enlargement, they handed out the most permits to facilitate employment. The most common origin country of these migrant workers is Ukraine in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and of course, as previously mentioned, Poland, though the latter has issued five times as many permits as all the permits handed out by the other five countries. In Latvia Russians are in the first place, while Croatia and Slovenia gives the most permits to immigrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Not surprisingly, most immigrants arrive to the Eastern part of the EU from the immediate neighbours, while those coming from third-world countries mostly aim for Western Europe.
The exceptions from the trends above are Romania (13,000 permits), UK (517,000 permits) and Ireland (47,000 permits), all three of these countries have given the most residence permits to students.
Hungary is not a destination for immigrants
Poland is exceeding not only in the actual number of permits issued but also in the ratio of permitholders compared to the entire population. There are 18.8 permit-holders for every 100.000 Polish people, the only countries ranking higher than that are Cyprus and Malta, with populations of 1,000,000 and 500,000 people respectively, and way fewer residence permits. Poland seems to start filling up the holes hit in their labour-market by the westward migration of the Polish with immigrants arriving from Ukraine.
Hungary, in principle, already recognised that it needs workers from somewhere - even the most successful demographic program would not be able to immediately remedy that problem, and the realities of Hungarian demographics leave small room for hope in that regard - but the number of residence permits issued for every 100,000 citizens is only 3.3. The government had a 59,000 permit quota for last year, but not even a quarter of that was actually realized, with 13,000 residence permits for the purpose of employment. Although Ukranian migrant workers do not need permits anymore to work in professions with skill shortages, their number falls way behind what would be neccessary.
Apart from the 13,000 employment-based permits mentioned above, Hungary issued 11,000 permits for students, 4379 for other reasons including asylum, and 3788 for family reunification purposes.
Hungary seems particularly attractive in Eastern Europe for one nation only: 75% of all residence permits issued to Chinese nationals was issued in Hungary, though that means only 2879 out of 3873. Slovakia was unique in the region in one thing; all 1114 permit-holders from Vietnam reside there.
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