Number of foreigners in the Czech Republic on the rise

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The Czech Republic is not a great example of a multicultural country. While the large ethnic German and Jewish minorities from pre-war Czechoslovakia - have all but disappeared, the country never experienced the kind of large-scale immigration seen in some Western countries after the war. But according new figures published by Czech Statistical Office the situation seems to be slowly changing. There are currently 250.000 foreigners living legally in the Czech Republic, which is six times as many as fifteen years ago.

The Czech Statistical Office has noticed a huge rise in the number of foreign citizens settling in the country over the last decade. According to Bohdana Hola from the Czech Statistical Office most come for economic reasons as the Czech economy grows.

"Most foreigners stay in the Czech Republic for economic reasons. The major groups of foreigners here are Ukrainians, Slovaks, Poles and Russians. The remaining 25 per cent of foreigners consist of different nationalities."

On the other hand the number of workers coming from the European Union is relatively low and has not changed even since EU enlargement, says Vice-president of Czech Statistical Office Stanislav Drapal.

"I must say that most of the immigrants come from developing countries; from Asia, from countries of the former Soviet Union etc. People coming from the European Union, from the United States or Canada are usually specialists for international companies acting in our country. Many people are for example from Germany, but it is due to the active role of German companies in our country."

Stanislav Drapal, photo: Herbert Brynda
Ukrainians make up over 30 percent of foreigners living in the Czech Republic, and mostly perform less qualified jobs - for example on building sites. But Stanislav Drapal points out that many of them have a good education.

"People coming from Ukraine, Slovakia or Poland are - I think - on a very good level concerning education. They are able to do very low level work, and yet also work as directors, teachers etc."

Due to their language, common history and cultural affinity the 47,000 Slovaks who live in the Czech Republic are often not even perceived as foreigners. Another large portion of foreigners is Vietnamese.

"I would go back to Hanoi, when I am 40 or more. But for some reason I feel home here in Prague. I came here after my high school so I've got a lot of friends here."

That was Mimi Nguyen one of the members of Vietnamese community. Although they come from a very different environment, a lot of Vietnamese have been settled here for many years. They started coming to Czechoslovakia in the 1970s as a result of bilateral agreements between the two Communist countries, and this continued after the fall of communism here.

"During the 1990's there were many people coming from Vietnam - and not only from Vietnam but also for example from Germany. They found in our country very good conditions for development of activities in the field of services and retail. I think right now for example it's typical for Vietnamese in our country to work as merchants."

Even though many Czechs are finding it hard to get used to the country's growing multiculturalism, the government is very aware of the important role being played by foreign workers and immigrants in the Czech economy today. The Czech population is one of the most rapidly aging in Europe, and allowing more foreigners into the country is one solution to the problem.