On 5 April, the European Commission published a recommendation for Member States on the recognition of academic and professional qualifications for anyone fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, the process for regulated professions, such as for lawyers, is less straightforward.
With over 4 million people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and seeking protection in the European Union, the European Commission outlined a range of supportive measures made available to help those fleeing the war in its communication ‘European solidarity with refugees and those feeling war in Ukraine’.
A temporary protection mechanism was subsequently activated, providing legal status to individuals upon arrival to the European Union for one year, with the possibility of a further year extension. With this protection comes a residence permit, welfare support, healthcare, access to housing, education and employment.
For non-EU nationals other than Ukrainians however, protection will only be applied if it can be proved that they were legally residing in Ukraine before 24 February 2022 on the basis of a permanent resident permit.
The European Commission is now encouraging EU Member States to ensure that fleeing professionals can also access jobs that correspond with their qualification level by reducing the formalities for recognising professional qualifications to a minimum. This will help women in particular, who represent a high proportion of refugees, facilitate their integration and build on their existing skills before returning to their home country.
The procedure of handling applications from professionals enjoying temporary protection should therefore be fast-tracked, ensuring that only the essential documents are required when accessing the labour market. This means allowing for digital versions of documents rather than original copies, dispensing of any language translation and reducing any associated costs, such as application fees.
However, this process is less straightforward for regulated professions such as lawyers, doctors, dentists and architects to which access to the profession is subject to specific training and qualifications. In this case, the recognition of professional qualifications will need to be approved by the host state and to apply the law and procedures at national level, which can make the process uncertain for those enjoying temporary protection.
The Commission therefore recommends individual Member States to put in place measures to facilitate the exercise of regulated professions, which include waiving a key component of EU law: the requirement for companies to prove that they could not hire an EU citizen before recruiting a person enjoying temporary protection.
In circumstances where the minimum training requirements for these professions are not met, the Commission asks individual Member States to identify solutions on how they can fulfil the missing competences, or how quick integration can be achieved. Support packages such as language courses and allowing practice under close supervision or where the host country language is not needed is also recommended, as well as considering informal and non-formal skills and competences.
Countries that already recognise Ukrainian legal qualifications include France and the UK, and with the EU Commission’s recommendation, further Member States and Bar Associations will no doubt be working together on future solutions to help those fleeing the war enter the legal profession. However, given the temporary nature of the protection mechanism, host states will need to work quickly to deliver timely solutions to facilitate entry to the legal profession.