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© Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.

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Chechen asylum seekers, January 2004
© UNHCR / J. Taylor

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© Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.

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Detention camps in Europe, 2005


The Past and the Current Migration Patterns - in Brief

Between 1850 and 1914 the territory of the current Czech Republic (part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time) lost about 1.6 million people (measured via net migration). Most of the emigrants were agricultural and industrial workers who went mostly to the United States, Canada, Argentina, but also Austria, Hungary, Russia, and countries of the former Yugoslavia in search of economic opportunities. After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, people continued to emigrate for economic and family reunification reasons, mainly to the United States, France, and Germany. After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, during the 1920s and 1930s, while being a parliamentary and one of the most developed industrial European countries, the Czech Republic lost about 90 thousand inhabitants (between 1920 and 1939, measured via net migration). Huge migration movements occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1947, some 2.8 million Germans were transferred and expelled from Czechoslovakia to Germany. Thus, the number of Germans in the Czech Republic alone shrank from 3 million (as of May 1, 1945) to 180 thousand (as of May 22, 1947). This exodus was only partly compensated by immigration.  During the communist era (1948 to 1989), the emigration again highly prevailed over the immigration. The data and estimates tell us that Czechoslovakia lost about 500 thousand inhabitants through illegal migration and 65 thousand through officially registered international migration movements. Probably more than 420 thousand people left the Czech Republic alone during the given period, it means more than 10 thousand a year. Despite the emigration was a permanent phenomenon, many people left in the aftermath of two important political events that occurred in 1948, when the communists came to power, and in 1968, when the Soviet army and its Eastern European allies invaded the country. As it follows from what has been mentioned, reasons behind the emigration were mostly political but also economic. Some people could no longer bear the anti-democratic and totalitarian regimes while others were dissatisfied with their general standard of living. These motives were often closely interwoven. Mostly highly skilled, younger, active, often people along with their families were leaving the country. Emigration meant breaking all family ties and social networks and it was considered a criminal offense. The consequences included confiscation of possessions and sometimes the persecution of relatives. Western European countries, but also traditional immigration regions such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, were the emigrants' destinations. Czechs were considered refugees and were welcomed in these host societies.Although few people from other communist states permanently settled in Czechoslovakia, temporary workers from countries under Soviet influence - mostly from Poland and Vietnam, but also from Angola, Cuba, and Mongolia - came to gain skill and work experience (for example, during the 1980s, a maximum of 60 thousand foreign workers, converted to one migrant and one day unit, were resident altogether in the country). At the same time, they filled gaps in the Czech labor market. This system of recruiting students, apprentices, and workers functioned via intergovernmental agreements and, to a much lesser extent, also through individual contracts (mainly with workers from Poland and Yugoslavia). These immigrants usually stayed several years and were involved in various branches of the economy, such as food-processing, textiles, shoe and glass industries, machinery, mining, metallurgy, and agriculture. Very often these immigrants were not so “visible”, they were segregated/separated and “ghettoized” (within the respective factories and localities). After the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989, most of them returned to their mother countries. On the other hand, some made use of their experience and in a newly formed political and economic regime established entrepreneurial ethnic enclaves.Since regaining its freedom in 1989 and peacefully splitting from the Slovak Republic in 1993, the Czech Republic has been transforming its former socialist/communist society into a democratic, parliamentary one based on a free-market economy. In 1999, the country joined NATO, and, in May 2004, the European Union (EU), along with a number of other former communist states. The Czech Republic has transformed in the last 17 years from a land of emigration to one of transit and immigration. Out of a total population of 10.2 million, 295,955 people (or 2.9 percent) in the Czech Republic in 2006 (as of June 30) were legal immigrants (see Fig. 1). Most of those having long-term visa and visa for a period longer than 90 days – they represented 57 percent - were “classical” economic migrants, whereas the rest 43 percent  were those who came because of family reunification or family creation (under the umbrella of permanent residence), or, in the case of EU citizens, simply those who asked for permanent residence. (These categories provide a basic typology of the country's legally registered foreigners - see more in Drbohlav 2004, Horáková 2006). The main countries of origin were Ukraine (93, 466), Slovakia (54,201), Vietnam (38,566), Poland (18,386), Russia (16,906), Germany (8,116), Moldova (5,352) and Bulgaria (4,610) – all the data as of June 30, 2006. During the first six months of 2006, 1,510 asylum seekers asked for asylum in the country (it was 4,021 in 2005, 6.2% of them got it). The number of illegal immigrants, mostly labour migrants, is estimated at between 40,000 and 350,000. The capital city, Prague, other big cities, and areas near the borders have attracted the most migrants.

Challenges after the Accession

The EU membership has made all the migratory and integration issues more complex, especially since migration policies and practices are still developing. What main changes might be attributed to the EU accession? What are the most topical, hot migration/integration issues in the Czech Republic – one of the EU countries at this moment?
First, to join the EU the Czech Republic needed to harmonize its migration legislation and practice to that in the EU. (The largest change occurred through Act No. 326/1999, on the Stay of Aliens on the Territory of the Czech Republic (Aliens Act) and Act No. 325/1999, on Asylum (Asylum Act). Both acts passed in 1999 and entered into force in January 2000). This legislation, inter alia, newly stipulated that those third-country nationals who intend to come to the Czech Republic for a specific purpose, such as employment, must first obtain a visa in their country of origin through Czech embassies or consular offices. Also, a new complex visa regime that contains provisions for the issuance, validity, and types of visa has been established. Since the accession an everlasting process of harmonizing legislation and procedures with EU standards (many various amendments and transpositions of EU Directives and other European regulations into Czech law) has been a permanent challenge for the Government. Let us give only one example - in regards to the directive on long-term residents, the waiting period for a permanent residence permit had to be shortened in the Czech Republic from 10 to 5 years (see Drbohlav, Horáková, Janská 2005).
Second, since May 2004 on, citizens of all EU countries have been entitled freely work in the Czech Republic under the same laws that protect national workers. The number of legally staying residents from "old" EU Member States increased from 2003 (December) to June (2006) in the following way: for example, citizens of France (1,355 versus 1,683), Italy (1,333 versus 1,869), Germany (5,188 versus 8,116), the Netherlands (815 versus 1,449), Austria (1,888 versus 2,683) and the UK (1,709 versus 2,469).
Third, Slovak immigration to the Czech Republic includes Slovak Roma, who have strong social ties to the Roma in the Czech Republic. Indeed, just after World War II and in the 1960s there were organized migration waves of Slovak Roma to the Czech Republic. It is estimated that in the beginning of 2000, between 10,000 and 14,000 Roma migrated to the Czech Republic from Slovakia. There are no data to prove it but only hypotheses signalizing that this inflow continues under the umbrella of the EU. This leads to another hot topic, namely a danger of a strong segregation/separation and ghettoization processes of population/immigrants in particular regions or parts of cities. Whereas it has so far been rather a rare phenomenon in the whole country, Romas represent an exception to this trend.   
Fourth, some new opportunities, albeit in some ways limited, appeared after the accession to the EU. The temporary barriers (“waiting transition period”) to labor mobility have meant that Czech nationals still need a work permit in all EU Member States except for Ireland, the UK, Sweden, and newly Finland, Portugal, Spain and Italy which all have their doors open to accession-state nationals now. The UK and Ireland, decided to deter supposed "welfare migrants" by restricting benefit access. According to statistics, rather a small number of Czechs have migrated and started working in countries that have allowed them to do so, namely 17,510 Czechs applied for work in the UK between May 2004 and September 2005 (Accession 2005), and 3,439 did the same in Ireland (between May 2004 and July 2005, Treser 2005). Rather marginal are respective numbers for Sweden. In sum, it has been proven that one of typical features of the Czech population is spatial stability rather than whatever else.
Fifth, besides other factors (like, e.g. an impact of “global tensions”), one of the main reasons for the decline of asylum seekers (from 11,396 in 2003 to 5,459 in 2004, and to 4,021 in 2005) is that the Czech Republic, along with other Eastern/Central European countries, joined the EU on May 1, 2004. As of that date, the Czech Republic began returning asylum seekers, in accordance with the Dublin Convention, to the first EU country they entered. This model, for example, has recently been applied in the case of Chechen asylum seekers - most have been returned to Poland, their first entry point in the EU.
Sixth, in July 2003, the government (inspired by some other developed immigration countries that started tackling ageing process of their populations and lack of labour force in selected branches of their national economies) launched a pilot program to bring foreign experts, specialists, and other highly skilled workers, as well as their families, to the Czech Republic. The program called "The Active Selection of Qualified Foreign Workers," operates on a point system that assesses a candidate's present employment, work experience, education, age, previous experience in the Czech Republic, language ability, and family members. Accepted candidates may qualify to receive a permanent residence after just 2.5 years. The government targeted potential immigrants from selected countries of the world along with foreign students from the Czech Republic to participate in the program. Between the program's launch and June 2006, only 420 people entered through the program, the majority of them Bulgarians (41 percent – Horáková 2006). To summarize, the program has failed to attract the number of applicants expected. Key part of the problem is that would-be applicants have a difficult time finding a job and arranging a temporary work visa, prerequisites for applying to the program. The second most important factor is that the state has not so far been able to effectively organize a demand side – who is needed for the economy and where. 
Seventh, “it could take at least another year, if not two, for the 10 new Member States, to become part of the Schengen Area without internal border checks (the last deadline was October 2007). The announcement was met with strong protests from the so-called Visegrad Group” … (Migration 2006). Officially, the reason behind is that the setting up of the SIS-II has been delayed considerably. Strong disapproval comes also from the Czech president and the government, all blame Brussels for discrimination. It is believed that the “Schengen” can, to some extent, change situation as to who and why is coming to the country.    
Eighth, last but not least, migration is not a priority and, in fact, has not yet been a high priority for Czech political elites. The Government should define and specify its "main migratory vision" — its economic, demographic, but also cultural and social diversity goals — and clearly link them to immigration and the country's needs and EU obligations. Accordingly, political parties should pay more attention to migration and foreigners´ integration issues (few political parties express their clear views in this regard). As more people settle in the Czech Republic, the government will also need to refine its integration policies and practices. Besides combating illegal/irregular migration, discrimination, xenophobia and racism, and other issues, searching for a new, for all involved more effective and “attractive” integration mode, is a must.


Accession Monitoring Report May 2004 – September 2005. A joint online report by the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions (The HM Revenue & Customs and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, November 22, 2005).

Drbohlav, D.: The Czech Republic.

Drbohlav, D.: Migration Trends in Selected EU Applicant Countries; Volume II – The Czech Republic; “The Times They Are A-Changin” (Vienna: International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2004).

Drbohlav, D./Horáková, M./Janská, E.: The Czech Republic, in: J. Niessen, Y. Schiebel, C. Thompson (eds.): Current Immigration Debates in Europe, A Publication of the European Migration Dialogue (Brussels: Migration Policy Group 2005, pp. 65-94).

Horáková, M.: Mezinárodní pracovní migrace, in: Bulletin č. 17. Praha, Výzkumný ústav práce a sociálních věcí 2006.

Migration News Sheet October 2006 (Brussels: Migration Policy Group, 2006).

Treser, J.: Report on the Free Movement of Workers in EU – 25. Who´s Afraid of EU Enlargement? (Brussels: European Citizen Action Service, 2005).

Valenta, O.: Prostorové rozmístění imigrantů v České republice se zvláštním zřetelem na Prahu. Diplomová práce. Katedra sociální geografie a regionálního rozvoje (Přírodovědecká fakulta UK v Praze, 2006).

Dušan Drbohlav. Associate Professor in the Faculty of Science, Department of Social Geography and Regional Development at Charles University Prague/Czech Republic