Over a hundred people gathered in front of the Interior Ministery on Tuesday to protest a new immigration bill, which migrant rights’ advocates feel is overly restrictive and discourages immigration to the Czech Republic. The draft is yet to be submitted for government’s approval, but already many voices are calling for drastic changes to the document.
Many in the NGO sector are incensed at the draft for a new immigration law that the interior ministry has put forward. Besides being even more convoluted and vague than the existing law, advocates criticize the increase in restrictions for families of foreigners from outside of the EU, for short-term work migrants, or even foreigners who have permanent residency or an EU passport.
Although the Interior Ministry formally consulted other institutions throughout the more than a year-long process of drafting the document – such as migrant rights advocates, universities, employers and others – many of them feel their opinions and comments were not taken into consideration. Magda Faltová, who heads the migrants rights NGO Association for Integration and Migration, says the draft bill clearly reflects the ministry’s approach towards immigrants.
“The view of the Ministry of Interior is very restrictive. It looks at migrants as criminals. And they are creating a law that is not open to immigration, they are creating a law that is limiting and restricting migration and trying to really push away the migrants already living here.”
To illustrate the problems that may ensue if this draft becomes the new immigration law, the demonstration included mock visits at the foreigners’ police for some of the best known migrants in Czech history – such as the forefather of the Czech nation Praotec Čech, the Frankish merchant Samo who founded the first known kingdom in these lands, or the American wife of the first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. All of them, demonstrators argue, would most likely be thrown out of the country, if the new law were implemented.
Immigration advocates and others, like the Ombudsman, point to a slew of problems with the draft. Some are seemingly nonsensical or even go against international law. For example, immigration police will be able to place in detention even children younger than 15, if there are any problems with their papers; the Interior Ministry will have the right to take away permanent residency permits simply on the basis of unpaid social security or health insurance; spouses of Czech citizens would have fewer rights than spouses of EU citizens living in the Czech Republic, and so on.
The results of implementing such a law, although that is still a distant possibility, may be catastrophic, not just for immigrants, but for the Czech Republic itself, depleting it of an increasingly needed labor force. Especially highly-skilled migrants will most likely think twice before deciding to move to the country.
“Those who are already living here might consider moving somewhere else, even those who are successful and have jobs and families. But it also creates an atmosphere of fear of the government or state authorities and lots of insecurity within the migrant community,” says Magda Faltová.
The draft just went through a final external consultation period, which yielded over 500 commentaries and proposed changes from various institutions. The Interior Ministry is legally obligated to respond to them or make changes accordingly, though this may mean that the draft may have to be rewritten completely, which the ministry may not be willing to do.