Number of foreigners staying legally in Czech Republic jumps 10 percent in one year

On Monday, the Ministry of the Interior released its report on migration for the year 2008, which showed that there are currently 438,000 foreigners residing legally in the Czech Republic. That number is over 10 percent higher than for the previous year – and nearly twice as many as six years ago. To get an idea of some of the issues that these latest immigration figures raise, I spoke with Eva Dohnalová, head of the nongovernmental organisation Berkat, which provides social services for immigrants. I began by asking her if there was any thing new to be gleaned from the numbers.

"We already knew these figures, but what is not said in this report is the number of immigrants who are in irregular positions here. That means migrants who might actually be in the Czech Republic illegally but the reasons are not necessarily because they simply crossed the border illegally. And this number might be the same as the number of regular migrants here."

What effect does this have on the Czech economy at a time of crisis? Is it being hurt by immigrants sending money home or helped by a stronger labour force?

"Well the Czech Republic is really dealing with a very big problem connected to personal placement services or agencies, which actually provide a kind of service for employees, but these agencies are really exploiting the immigrants and they pay less etc. etc. So I think a lot of money is disappearing due to this lack of supervision over personal placement services."

The BBC on Tuesday released its own research which shows that international migration has sharply declined during the economic crisis of recent years, but this does not seem to be the case in the Czech Republic, why is that?

"I would say that the BBC was focusing more on the western world, so the economic crisis arrived a little later in the Czech Republic. But I assume that for this year the statistic will be different, that the number of arrivals has actually decreased in 2009."

Photo: European Commission
And is immigration not vital to this country given that the population of ethnic Czechs is declining seemingly irreversibly?

"The government has changed the rhetoric of the immigration policy a little bit, so it’s a little bit easier to get here. But still, I would say that the immigration policy is restrictive because the ministries do not really cooperate together to develop an immigration policy. So yes, you’re right, but this fact is not really reflected in reality."