For almost a month Belarus has been shaken by mass rallies, strikes, and protests of those who disagree with the results of the presidential elections, which, according to the Central Election Commission of Belarus, were won by Alexander Lukashenko.
The government used force, detained, and beat protesters. The IT-sphere feels the pressure too: turning off the Internet, mobile communications, systematic interruptions in the banking system, and searches in the top enterprises of the sector (Yandex, Uber, Wargaming.net) - this became a kind of "last straw," which entailed large-scale changes in the field of information technology in Belarus.
"We are not experts in politics, but we are experts in the technology business. We face the conditions, in which the technology business cannot function. Startups are not born in an atmosphere of fear and violence. Startups are born in an atmosphere of freedom and openness," reads the open letter of the IT sector representatives, addressed to President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. The letter was signed by more than 3,000 industry employees. The authorities did not react to it in any way.
If there was a "last straw", then there were prerequisites for it, right? Yes, for example, long-term problems with freedom of speech and thought in the country.
"As it is now customary to say: when hiring a person for a job, they want to see not only hard skills (skills necessary for a specific job, what is taught in college and university, - ed.), but also soft skills (skills, connected with the successful participation in the work process, high productivity and are cross-cutting, that is, they are not related to a specific subject area, - ed.). So, Belarus itself has developed in an industrial key, that is, in hard skills. But not in soft skills, because there was little communication within the country as such on political topics, the vector of movement of the country, etc. There is even such a true old joke that in Belarus entrepreneurs build houses not upward, but downward so that it is not obvious that you have a big house. jokes are not out of the blue, I think," president of the European Association of Software Engineering Vladislav Savchenko notes.
When all the factors hindering the development of the IT-sphere came together, many IT companies in Belarus started looking for opportunities to relocate their employees to countries with a more stable political situation.
What attracts Belarusian IT specialists to Ukraine?
The top countries for moving in terms of convenience and conditions are countries that are actively developing digital: Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, England, USA (one of the largest markets).
"Almost all countries have digital campaigns at the state level for innovative companies - support from the state with documents and everything necessary," emphasizes Vladнslav Savchenko, noting that Ukraine is also a member of this conglomerate.
According to the European Association for Software Engineering (EASE), over a thousand Belarusian IT specialists see their near future in Ukraine. For them, the scheme of working with private entrepreneurs and a 5% payment is attractive. A significant role here is played by the mental similarity of peoples, language, and a fairly large IT-community in Ukraine. Moreover, according to Vladislav Savchenko, the decision of the Belarusians was also influenced by the invitation from the government: “They saw that there is a communication from our side. Naturally, a person wants to go more when they are waiting for him.”
Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers decided to ensure the possibility of immigration to Ukraine of 5,000 Belarusian IT specialists, distributing quotas in the regions in which the largest number of IT companies are concentrated. Thus, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, and Lviv regions can attract 600 specialists each, the Kharkiv region - 700, and the city of Kyiv received 2,500 quotas. Deputy Prime Minister - Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov announced this on his Facebook page, also noting that immigration within the framework of quotas allows foreign IT specialists to find employment on the same conditions as citizens of Ukraine:
"Together with the Ukrainian IT business, the Ministry of Digital Transformation is ready to create all the necessary conditions for a comfortable relocation of IT companies and specialists to Ukraine. A Ukrainian IT company can invite such a foreigner to work. Among the documents, he provides the company with only copies of his passport with a certified translation and photo. Then the company applies to the Employment Center, to which it encloses copies of the foreigner's passport, photo, and draft labor agreement. Within 5-7 days, the Employment Center issues such a permit. All. A foreigner can legally live and work in Ukraine. This mechanism can be used by any foreign specialist, regardless of the qualification level."
Are there any problems with the move? Speaking about the procedure for moving Belarusian IT specialists, one cannot mention a number of difficulties they face.
"The decision was brewing from the first day of the protests - the Internet was turned off. It is important for the employer not only to keep the business but also to keep jobs and the ability to fulfill obligations to clients and employees. In addition, now we are afraid of problems with the closure of borders by quarantine," one of the Belarusian IT specialists, CEO Ilya, tells about his move.
Closure of the borders, the reluctance of the Belarusian authorities became one of the most difficult difficulties on the way to stability. For example, Belarusian specialists are removed from planes because they want forcefully to prevent them from leaving Belarus. And in connection with the closure of the Ukrainian borders for Belarusians until September 28, employees need to make invitations so that they can get to Ukraine, according to President of the European Association of Software Engineering Vladislav Savchenko, a number of companies have already done this.
Also, to solve the problem of crossing the border, the Association proposes to expand the list of IT professions: "Developers are allowed in, but related professions by type: Internet marketer, project manager, tester, etc. are not allowed, since they are not in the IT list. The help of state bodies is already needed here."
A couple of IT clusters - in Lviv and in Odesa - also joined in solving the issues of Belarusian IT specialists.
What opportunities will open up for Belarusian specialists? Ukraine, like Belarus, has always been a kind of hub for IT specialists. The only thing is that the Ukrainian IT market is much larger: the Belarusian market includes about 50,000 specialists, and the Ukrainian - about 250,000 specialists. That is, the first thing that is definitely provided for the specialists who arrived in Ukraine is a great exchange of experience. Labor wages in Ukraine are higher (of course, the coronavirus has made its own adjustments here, so the market sank a little).
“I see now the average median in Belarus of about $ 1,500 for salaries in the market, in Ukraine, it is about $ 1,700," Vladislav Savchenko notes.
Is it profitable for Ukraine to help Belarusians? Ukraine can even make money on residents by increasing the market of IT services at the expense of Belarusian IT specialists.
"Every thousand people will give us an increase of 50 million dollars per year in foreign exchange earnings to Ukraine from foreign counterparties. Therefore, we can certainly see the advantages here. The higher the competition, the better the product," European Association for Software Engineering (EASE).
But whether it will all work in practice? Indeed, in order to become a really demanded comfortable place for relocation in the future, Ukraine should establish a special tax regime (for example, Belarus reduced the income tax rate has been to 9% until 2049, IT business is exempt from income tax and VAT, the work of IT companies has been de-bureaucratic, cryptocurrencies, ICOs, and smart contracts have been legalized).
We already have prerequisites for such changes (a bill that changes the taxation of the IT sector, namely, increases the tax on wages of Ukrainian IT specialists by 2-8 times), but in order for the IT industry to work like a clock, it is necessary to introduce these changes systematically, with the improvement of infrastructure, in the conditions of a transparent system of budget expenditures and absence of corruption.
It is also worth noting that about 20% of Belarusian IT specialists are ready to stay, the rest are still considering options for returning to Belarus when everything calms down and there is an opportunity to have more transparent relations with the state.