Migration into Czech Republic reaches record levels

Photo: European Commission

According to new figures released by the National Security Council of the Czech Republic, more than 392,000 foreigners legally came to live and work in the Czech Republic in 2007, a 22% increase on the previous year’s figures. But what are the implications of this increasing trend of immigration into the country? I spoke with Marie Jelínková of the Prague Multicultural Centre for her insight and began by asking her to explain why the Czech Republic was an increasingly attractive location for migrants.

“I believe that there are several reasons for such growth. The Czech economy is doing really well. The unemployment rate is low – about 5 percent, and the government has supported various industries, for example the car industry where many workers are needed. And together with this, it is easier for migrants to get to the Czech Republic compared to Western Europe. But it is more difficult to stay in the Czech Republic legally, which many migrants don’t realise. And of course, the fact that the Czech Republic has joined the Schengen zone has also played an important role.”

Can you explain what you mean when you say that it is not as easy for migrants to remain in the country?

Nowadays the system is that you can come to the Czech Republic when you have a certain purpose. The purpose can be a job or study. But once you lose that purpose, you are expected to leave the Czech Republic. So if you find a job which lasts only four months, and then you lose that job, you are supposed to leave the Czech Republic, get out of the Schengen area and apply again for a new job.”

And the figures indicate that the most foreigners that are coming to this country are Ukranian, Slovaks, Vietnamese, Poles and Russians. Now apart from the Vietnamese, geographical proximity plays a key role – but what about the Vietnamese case?

“There are historical roots concerning migrants from more distant places. The Vietnamese are one example, but there is also an increase in the number of Mongolians. And this is because of historical connections during the communist era when a lot of Vietnamese students were sent to Czechoslovakia to study and then they came back. Nowadays, they know something about the Czech Republic, have started to live here and this too attracts more and more Vietnamese to the country. And also Czech employers kind of like the Vietnamese, because they consider them to be really good workers.”

Photo: European Commission
Do you think that the current system is working and is mutually beneficial, especially with the new Schengen system in place?

“In general, I think that it is mutually beneficial, but I think that not enough attention is being paid to integration policies in the Czech Republic.”

Could you explain why you think that is?

"I don’t know why the state behaves like that, but to illustrate the situation better – for example, to get a permanent residence permit, which you can apply for after five years of working in the Czech Republic, you need to pass a Czech language exam. But there are not enough courses for migrants to attend; there are no evening classes for migrants who work during the day to attend and so on. So they are expected to adapt; expected to learn the language, but they are not given the right conditions for that.”