Czech Republic expects wave of immigrants but is it ready to accept them?


The Czech Republic has traditionally been quite a homogenous country with just a small number of foreigners living here, but that picture is changing, and fast…Twelve years from now immigrants and their families could make up nearly 8% of the Czech population and, by 2065, the share may reach as much as 30%. That is, at least, according to a study by demographers from Charles University. Indeed, last year saw the biggest influx of registered immigrants in this country’s history, with some 84,000 people coming to live and work here. But is the Czech Republic ready to accept and accommodate this wave?

Tomáš Kučera is one of the people behind the study. He explains how he conducted his research:

“We asked ourselves a question: How many immigrants will have to come to this country to keep the number of the population steady? And according to our calculations we will need to import approximately 3 million foreigners to keep the 10.3 million inhabitants that we have today.”

Does it mean that the number of Czechs will be decreasing, then?

“The natural reproduction is in minus in this country. Not today perhaps, but it’s just a matter of time. We have to expect the decrease of Czechs. It means there will be more deaths than births in the future. Therefore this number, this 30 percent of foreigners in the Czech population by 2065, is quite a realistic one.”

There are currently over 400,000 foreigners with long term or permanent residence living in the Czech Republic. Approximately 30 % of them are Ukrainians, followed by Slovaks and Vietnamese. In fourth and fifth place are Russians and Poles – there are thought to be approximately 20,000 of each living in the country. The number of recently arrived Slovaks, however, is expected to fall in the future because of an economic upturn back in their homeland. So, who will be the people coming in the future? Tomáš Kučera again:

“First of all, it very much depends on the immigration policy of this country. And second, immigration is related to whether there already exists a social network. So we can expect a further raise in the number of Ukrainians and Vietnamese.”

Lida Bobysudova of the Organization for Aid to Refugees says the estimates might be a bit exaggerated. On the other hand, she admits that more and more foreigners don’t come merely because it is easier to make money here, but they settle here for good. The Organization for Aid to Refugees has just completed a project called Work in Prague, focused on helping immigrants to find better jobs. Part of the project was a survey asking immigrants about their work experience. What exactly did it find out?

“For example that all of them had an experience with working on the black market. We also found out that it’s quite hard for foreigners to use their qualifications from their own country in our labour market. Only young people who have acquired diplomas at our universities have a chance to get a good job. So one of the aims of this project was to try and help people find a suitable job.”

Photo: European Commission
One of the people who came to the Czech Republic and is doing quite well is Svetlana Romanova from Ukraine, who now speaks accent-less Czech:

“The first job I had here in the Czech Republic was through a contractor. It was a short-term job in Brandýs nad Labem. We picked cucumbers and tomatoes – it was a terrible job. Then I moved to Prague and started to work in a restaurant and I’ve worked in this business ever since. Because I was a single mother, the state was more helpful than it would have otherwise been. Now we have permanent residence permits and everything is OK.”

Although she says she was lucky, the beginnings were not always easy:

“It happened to me several times that when I asked for a job over the phone and I told the employer that I was from Ukraine, he would hang up. But if I went there in person, the employer wouldn’t guess where I was from, he would judge me by my looks and my behaviour, and everything would go well.”

Another foreigner I spoke to was Mirwais Ali, who came to the Czech Republic from Afghanistan, for a rather unexpected reason, and now has a good employment here:

“I used to work with Člověk v tísni [People in Need, an NGO] in Afghanistan. I met a girl there so that’s why I decided to come here with her. I had a good income in Afghanistan so I didn’t really have to move.”

What did you do after you came?

“I tried to find a job by looking on the internet. I sent around my CV and then I got a job. So it was not really difficult. I know some people have problems here finding a job because they are from Afghanistan or Iraq or India. It’s difficult, I know that. But I guess I was just lucky.”

Do you think it was because of your qualifications?

“I only studied at high school and I didn’t study at university, because of the economic situation in Afghanistan. So I really had to work. I worked for NGOs for about five or six years, so that was my qualification. I was told at interviews that I had good experience and my English was pretty good so that’s how I got my job.”

So do you now consider this country your second home?

“I feel comfortable here and I have no plans to go back now or to any other country.”

Are you actually helping out your family at home?

“Definitely. The only person who works in the family is my father, who makes around 60 dollars a month, which is not even enough for breakfast for the seven members of my family. So I really have to support them which is what I am doing now.”

The stories of Mirwais and Svetlana may give the impression that immigrants in the Czech Republic are not doing badly at all. But, with many more set to come in the future, does the country have the capacity to accept the anticipated wave of immigrants? Lida Bobysudova again:

“I think that our society is not ready for immigration from countries with different cultures and religions. We can accept people from the former Soviet Union because they belong to a similar culture and religion and they look like us. But society is not prepared to live with people from different cultures. We only tolerate people until they show their differences.”

Ms Bobysudova says that it is quite natural to fear the unknown. The only way to overcome that fear is raising public awareness and opening a wider public debate, something she adds, the Czech Republic is still missing.