Over 310,000 foreign nationals registered in Czech Republic

The Czech Statistical Office has just released a new report on the number of foreign citizens living in the Czech Republic. Its most recent figures show there are over 300,000 foreign nationals with permanent residence in this country. At the end of last year, they accounted for some 2.5 percent of the overall population. Although compared to other EU countries the share is relatively small, it keeps growing steadily.

After the fall of communism, Czech society was quite homogenous as to the ethnic origin and nationality of the population. When the borders opened it first became a transit country for migration to the West but over the past few years it gradually turned into a target country for migrants. In the first nine months of 2006, the number of foreign nationals registered in the Czech Republic grew by 30,000 to reach 310,000. Ukrainians account for the biggest percentage - around a third - followed by Slovaks, Vietnamese, Poles and Russians.

Bohdana Hola from the Czech Statistical Office says the number of foreigners differs according to regions. For example, over one third of them reside in the capital Prague.

"The foreigners most often settle in Prague. They also often head for areas where there are communities from their countries. Vietnamese citizens often settle in the border regions in the west of the country, Russians tend to settle in the Karlovy Vary region or in Prague. It is a trend with all nationalities that they tend to stick to their compatriots and move close to their relatives."

Around 40 percent of foreigners registered in the Czech Republic have the status of a permanent resident or asylum seeker. At 2.5 percent, the share of foreign citizens in Czech society is quite low compared to other European countries. Luxembourg reports the highest percentage - almost 64 percent. The lowest share is reported by neighbouring Slovakia, with just 0.4 percent of foreign nationals. Demographers say that in recent years, immigration has been helping to improve the population structure in the Czech Republic. Otherwise, the data look quite bleak, according to demographer Jitka Rychtarikova.

"I must say that we should be worried about our demographic future because mortality will be decreasing - which is good news - however, our fertility is extremely low and I don't believe that the fertility level will be increasing as much as for instance in Europe."