The vast majority of foreigners working in the Czech Republic come from countries to the east: Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland and Russia. There is also a large Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic. According to the Statistics Office of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, this is due to the economic and political situations in these so-called resource countries during the past 10 years.
More recently, there’s been an influx of foreigners from European Union countries after the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU. The number has been sizable, although there is still room for more EU workers on the Czech labor market since it was fully opened in May 2004.
As American Michael Diaz, an English teacher at the James Cook language agency, points out “Prague actually has the same kinds of opportunities as New York. That’s something my friends can’t believe.”
Why Slovaks, Ukrainians and Vietnamese?
By far the largest group of foreigners living and working in the Czech Republic comes from neighboring Slovakia. Slovaks have several natural advantages over other foreigners living here. Foremost is the lack of any real language barrier. Moreover, the Czech and Slovak economies are quite similar and the countries have a shared culture and recent history.
Most Slovaks come to the Czech Republic to pursue higher education. After finishing their studies and establishing a network of friends, many Slovaks choose to stay in the country to find work and establish a career.
Thanks to an advantageous process making it easy to obtain permanent residence and citizenship, many Slovaks came to the Czech Republic well before both countries joined the EU. And while they still speak Slovak and identify themselves as Slovak, Czechs do not often consider Slovaks living here as foreigners.
“My Czech colleagues sometimes make jokes about Slovaks, but it’s all in good fun,” explains Veronika Molčanová-Vargová, a marketing specialist at mobile telecommunications company Eurotel, who came to the Czech Republic from Slovakia more than 10 years ago to attend university. She adds that there are very few obstacles for Slovaks working in the Czech Republic.
The second largest group of foreigners working in the Czech Republic is from Ukraine. Ukrainian is commonly heard on construction sites and in similar areas of the job market. For their part, Ukrainians are primarily seasonal workers who come to the Czech Republic for the short term. Because they are often relatively cheap to employ, Ukrainians have become a highly employable work force.
More often than not, Ukrainians come to the Czech Republic to work in jobs involving manual labor, and typically send the money they earn to their families at home. Few come here to pursue an education or to gain professional work experience.
Third on the list of foreigners are the Vietnamese, who in contrast to Ukrainians come to the Czech Republic to live permanently, often with their whole families. “Initially, men come to the Czech Republic to find work. After finding employment and accommodation, their wives follow,” says Marcel Winter, chairman of a Czech-Vietnamese Society. “The majority of Vietnamese are interested in working and earning enough money to send their children to Czech schools and universities,” remarks Winter.
Vietnamese most often work, according to Winter, at vegetable markets and grocery stores or by selling textiles, shoes and consumer electronics.
Interest in the EU and elsewhere
People from Eastern Europe and Asia are not the only ones who come to live and work in the Czech Republic. An uncomplicated entry policy makes it easy now for EU citizens to work here. Employers are only obliged to declare the number of people from other EU countries they employ.
Workers from the United Kingdom and Germany make up the largest number of EU citizens working in the Czech Republic. Because of the close proximity of the local market, the Czech Republic’s western neighbors have found a strong market for their goods and services.
In addition to EU citizens, there are many Japanese living and working in the Czech Republic, thanks to the construction and operation of several large Japanese manufacturing plants. Finally, along with the Japanese, one can find plenty of Americans also making a living here.
The Czech Republic’s reaction
Almost one-third of all foreigners work in Prague or Central Bohemia, namely in the industrial city of Mladá Boleslav. While official statistics indicate that most foreigners here work blue-collar jobs, there are plenty of EU citizens working here as skilled professionals. However, because they don’t need permits to work in the Czech Republic, they are not included in the statistics.
In an initiative to control and increase the numbers of skilled workers coming from countries outside of the EU, the Czech Republic has launched a project to actively seek qualified foreign workers. The project has so far included applicants from Bulgaria, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Moldavia, Serbia, Montenegro, Canada and Ukraine.
The program allows chosen applicants to obtain a 30-month permanent residency permit for themselves and their families. Individuals who are chosen through the program work mainly in technical, managerial or IT positions. Half of them have higher education while a large number of them have graduated from trade and vocational schools.
Foreigners working in the Czech Republic most often complain about the difficulties they experience in dealing with the foreign police. Because the majority of foreigners working here live in Prague and Central Bohemia, the foreign police in these areas is often overwhelmed by the flood of requests to grant or prolong work permits. The situation in smaller towns is much better, but foreigners are still obliged to register with the foreign police accordingly in their area of residence.
While the foreign police is no longer responsible for granting work permits to EU citizens, it does continue to provide some services to this group of people. For example, the foreign police is called upon to provide confirmation of residency when a foreigner marries a Czech citizen or when a foreigner’s personal data or place of residence is changed.
Because there is no opportunity to make these requests remotely or through a third party, long lines, crowded waiting rooms and poor communication between administrative departments can make a visit to the foreign police an unpleasant experience.
One problem that has improved in recent years concerns foreigners interested in buying real estate. It should be noted that this is no longer the headache it once was, as Czech law has been reformed to make the process easier. EU citizens can buy real estate in the Czech Republic without any difficulty, so long as they have a valid residency permit. This also goes for members of the European Economic Area (including Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland) and U.S. citizens, thanks to agreements between the Czech Republic and those countries.
The Czech language remains a small cultural barrier for foreigners working here, as most find it very difficult to learn. This might not be such a problem for those working in international companies where the language of business is English or German. In fact, it’s not uncommon for such companies to arrange Czech language courses for their foreign employees in an effort to overcome the language barrier and help employees better integrate into the Czech environment.
Nonetheless, Czechs are quick to empathize with any foreigner showing even a little interest in the language and knowledge of even a few Czech words.
The growing number of foreigners working here has had a positive influence on both Czechs and the foreigners they work with. Thanks to this emerging trend, both groups are learning to accept and understand different cultures. For example, at the Japanese factories that employ thousands of people, employees exercise together before starting their shifts and even enjoy Japanese food at the employee cafeteria.
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