Local Czech Consul Ivo Losman: “Manchester is growing in importance”
It has been nearly three years since the opening of the Czech Consulate in Manchester. One of its main tasks has been to offer guidance and support to thousands of Czechs living in the north of England with their applications for settled status in the UK amid the Brexit transition. I recently caught up with the head of the consulate, Ivo Losman, and asked him how successful Czech officials had been in helping with this administrative process.
“In terms of applications from Czech citizens the number of applications still ranges in several hundred per month. Personally, I am more qualified to speak about Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland – the area that is covered by our consulate in Manchester. This is because our embassy in London is doing quite a lot in this area as well of course.
“We are still facing some difficulties in explaining to Czech citizens that their children also have to apply for settled status. While the majority of adults have already applied or left the country, the latter category ranges from the dozens to hundreds, there still are some issues with children and vulnerable citizens.”
You said that there were dozens to hundreds of Czechs who have left the UK. That does not sound like so many given the fact that there were upwards of 70,000 Czechs that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believed could be residing in the United Kingdom just a couple of years ago?
“We were a bit surprised, because there were some estimates that there could be around 60,000 Czechs living in the UK. Before Brexit there were other estimates made after the opening up of our consulate that there could be almost a 100,000 Czechs living there.
“Now we know that, by October, 76,000 Czechs already got their settled or pre-settled status. That means that the real number of Czechs still living there could be around 80,000 to 90,000.”
On the topic of settled status applications we should also mention the Czechs residing in the United Kingdom who are members of the Roma community. There were reports of some of them falling prey to fake news spread by traffickers urging them to return to the Czech Republic, although often just to steal their money. How did that situation end up developing and do we have any numbers in terms of how many people we are speaking about?
“Unfortunately we do not have any numbers, but of course we do know that there are some locations where the vulnerable Roma and other Czechs are living. It looks like it's mainly in the North of England. However, we are receiving help from quite a few local Czech community organizations there that are helping us in this matter and helping the citizens with filling out the forms.
“It is really hard to say, but I do not expect that there are many Czechs left behind who did not apply [for settled status] at all.”
You mentioned Czech community organizations. Actually, earlier this month the Czech School in Manchester celebrated 10 years since its opening. How popular are these schools and what is their main benefit?
“There are more than 10 Czech schools in the UK and they are helping Czechs to teach their children their mother tongue, language, geography and history. They are mainly community-based Saturday schools, where the people also organize cultural events, concerts and exhibitions.
“Ultimately, they also helped each other and were very helpful in providing support for vulnerable citizens with their settled status as well as in communications with British institutions.”
Could you just describe how that works in practice?
“Since we are based in Manchester, we of course know what goes on there. However, in cities such as Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle, we rely on fellow Czechs who give us information about what the local problems are, and how we can help and raise these issues with British institutions. That's mainly how we cooperate together.”
Why is Manchester such an important city for the Czech expat community in the UK and, indeed, for the Czech Republic, represented by its Foreign Ministry, itself?
“Manchester is growing in importance within the United Kingdom with the establishment of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Consulates from other countries have already opened up there before us. We just followed up on our friends from Poland, Hungary, Romania and Portugal. If I recall correctly, there are already consulates from 10 EU member states in Manchester now.”
When I was in Manchester two years ago, there were also big hopes for Czech industry there, because the British government was planning on making major investments into the North of England. I understand that, for example, Škoda Transportation was looking to sell some of its trams to Manchester. Have you managed to seal any deals since then?
“Unfortunately not many deals and certainly not any big ones. We did try during the visit of our foreign minister to Manchester, just before the pandemic started, where we had discussions with aerospace industry representatives, some from the north of England and some from Czechia.
“There are some contacts and some small business opportunities concluded, but not many and of course quite a lot on this front stopped during Covid-19 times.”
So would you say that the coronavirus pandemic was the main reason for that, or why has there not been much success on this front?
“Perhaps it was a combination of Covid-19 and Brexit. People could not move between the two countries so easily any more. Flights between the Czech Republic and Manchester were stopped, so it was hard to even get over to Manchester.”
On the subject of traveling in coronavirus times, I wanted to ask you if you have any practical experiences or tips that you could give potential travelers to Britain or the Czech Republic? What sorts of details should they make sure to look up, aside from obviously the official website of the Foreign Ministry?
“Actually, we face the same problem that travelers face themselves. Every day we are trying to find new rules.
“We are mainly following the UK government website, which is fine and you can find everything that you need there when traveling to Britain. Then there are also differences between the individual nations that make up the United Kingdom. When it comes to traveling from Britain to the Czech Republic, we recommend following the official website of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which I believe is excellent.
“Ultimately, we also have to check the French, German and Dutch websites for further rules, because many people are traveling by car and need to know these details as well. It is not easy, but you have to make sure to keep checking until the last moment before you set out on your journey.”
You have been in charge of the Consulate in Manchester since it opened nearly three years ago. What would you say have been your three biggest successes as consul so far?
“I would mention the establishment of the Consulate itself and making sure that it works as it should. That would be the main success. The second one would be the re-opening of the Honorary Czech Consulate in Edinburgh, which took place last autumn. Finally, I would also mention managing to get the local Czech School in Manchester into the premier league of Czech schools.
“By this I mean the fact that Czech students of that school no longer need to get their exams done in the Czech Republic. Rather, when they visit the Czech School in Manchester they can get the relevant examinations done directly there.”
Do you know if there are cases of pupils from that school making use of this option and returning to the Czech Republic?
“It is working, but there won't be many students. This is because their parents are staying and working in the UK, so the children largely stay with them.
“The education that they receive in the Czech School in Manchester is mainly for them to learn sufficiently so that they are able to stay in touch with their Czech relatives in their home country. However, if they get their education there, they also do not have any problems if they choose to return to the Czech Republic.”
For my final question I wanted to ask how you would characterize Czech-British relations right now, especially, in comparison with other non-EU European states? Have they developed in any way over the past few years?
“We are trying to work hard on this. However, it was not easy during the pandemic, nor during Brexit negotiations, which are being run through Brussels of course. I can tell you that the London Embassy and us are doing our best, with significant help from the Czech Foreign Ministry as well. However, there is not much more that I can say about this.”