Economists supporting Ukraine

More than 100 Australian economists are advocating for a more generous policy for persons displaced by the war in Ukraine.

An open letter, authored by Dr. Ekaterina Volkova (the University of Melbourne, Department of Finance), Dr. Anastasia Burkovskaya (the University of Sydney, School of Economics), and Dr. Maxim Ananyev (the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research), calls for the Australian government to subsidise flight tickets to Australia, as well as temporary housing for Ukrainians fleeing conflict. The letter also asks businesses to hire more Ukrainian refugees. It has been signed by 136 Australian economists from around the country. Among those academics who lent their support to the letter are leading economists in the fields of macroeconomics, labour economics, and economics of migration.

On 20 March, the Australian government announced a new type of humanitarian visa as an enhanced support measure for Ukrainians fleeing the war. Ukrainians affected by the Russian bombardment who happen to already be in Australia are eligible, and will get access to, work rights, medicare and school education for the next three years. This government initiative is urgently needed, but is not enough to establish a functioning humanitarian corridor between Ukraine and Australia, the authors of this letter claim.

The open letter argues that subsidising plane tickets and temporary housing should be the next step in making such a humanitarian corridor effective, which will also be economically beneficial for Australia and will boost the nation's COVID recovery effort.

The main argument of the letter highlights that Australia is currently experiencing a substantial labour shortage in all sectors of the economy, and this shortage cannot be sufficiently covered by local workers. At the same time, the refugees who are fleeing Ukraine frequently possess complementary skills that are currently in high-demand.

For instance, newcomers can close the gap in programs and STEM-related fields, as IT is the third-biggest export in Ukraine. The Ukrainian agriculture sector is one of the largest globally, and workers from this sector can contribute to the understaffed agricultural sector in Australia.

The economists argue that, while Australia does not have a stellar record of responding to humanitarian catastrophes recently, it can replicate its post-WW2 policies. Twentieth-century migration undoubtedly boosted the Australian economy, while helping Australia maintain its status of a country with some of the highest living standards in the world.

Finally, the letter argues that these measures should not come at the expense of any other groups of refugees. Australia, the economists claim, should become a more welcoming place for anyone fleeing wars, devastation, and repressive regimes.