Labour offices told to get tough on work permits for foreigners as unemployment bites

Local Czech labour offices have been instructed to take a tougher line on permits for foreigners seeking work in the country or those wanting to prolong their existing permits. The instruction is a direct result of the mounting number of jobless Czechs. We look at the new recommendation and who it affects.

The new line on foreign work permits came down from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs this week. Basically, it wants labour offices not to prolong current permits for foreigners if a Czech can fill the position and above all not to give out new permits.

Štěpánka Filipová, photo: www.ct24.cz
The ministry says it is a direct result of higher Czech unemployment and the desire to get Czechs back in work where possible.

Štěpánka Filipová is a spokeswoman at the ministry. She stresses that labour offices have been told to take a flexible approach and this is not a blanket ban.

“The priority of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is to get as many Czech citizens back to work as possible and thereby improve their living standards. That is why the ministry made this recommendation. Having said this, the limitations on foreigners from third countries should take place in every case in a sensitive way with regard to the circumstances of individuals and the labour market of specific regions.”

According to the latest figures for February, Czech unemployment now stands at 9.9 percent.

At the same time, there are around 66,000 workers from so-called third countries, those not from the European Union, European Free Trade area or Switzerland. Most of these are Ukrainians, Moldovans and Mongolians followed by Russians and Vietnamese.

But those working with some of those foreign workers wonder whether labour offices will really take a sensitive approach under the new guidelines and question the fairness of shutting the door to such workers when times get tough.

Zita Kudrnová is chairwoman of Bridge for Human Rights, an association which helps foreign workers integrate in the eastern city of Pardubice.

“I think the offices should take account how long the foreigners have been here, how long they have been working in these positions and if they are here with families or not and so on. In any case this is not an ideal situation when they are allowed here before the so-called crisis and then told they cannot stay. It personally strikes me as not very fair just to say ‘goodbye’ and we are freeing up this position for someone else.”

She also wonders whether the ministry’s tougher approach might not just force more foreigners to drop out of sight and become part of the illegal economy.

“I personally think that it will produce more illegals. These foreign workers do not want to go home because they must pay back debts they have incurred in their countries. I do not think this is a good solution.”

She adds that in any case, Czech companies will probably still seek to employ foreign workers when they can ― because they are cheaper, work longer hours and often do work most Czechs would still prefer to shun.