As you may already have heard on Radio Prague, the Czech Republic needs an influx of qualified foreign workers. A country with an aging population and a declining birth rate needs new blood and the government is taking steps to smooth the way. In 2004 the Czech Republic will join the European Union but as one of ten newcomers it is unlikely to attract many work candidates from the well-to-do EU states. On the other hand, as a new EU member it will be much more attractive to qualified workers from the East. Rather than letting that process take its natural course, the Czech government has launched a project which should enable it to give preference treatment to those candidates who would best meet the country's needs: ie. people with a secondary school or university education, preferably couples with children and -most important of all people who would be willing to settle in this country permanently. A working knowledge of Czech is considered a bonus though not a condition. In the first phase of the project the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry has invited candidates from three countries - Bulgaria, Croatia and Kazachstan to file their applications. Michal Meduna is head of the Labour Ministry's Department for Migration :
"We are truly trying to attract qualified foreign workers to the Czech Republic together with their families and we are hoping that they will settle here permanently. All they need to do is find work and fulfil the legal requirements concerning entry into the country and residence permits. We do have some additional criteria such as that they have to have at least secondary school education and some work experience -let's say six months. We are hoping that our project will be something like a beacon that will show that if we really want to attract foreign workers and create a motivating environment for them we will have to change our legislation."
In what way?
"In my opinion - and this is my personal opinion - Czech legislation is really not in favour of labour migration. You must have a work permit that is issued for one year, you need a visa that is also issued for a maximum of one year. You constantly need to renew permits, which is not an easy process. Our legislation does not follow the modern European trends in aligning foreigners' rights to the length of residence in a country. I think that this project will show that we really need to change our legislation in this respect and take into account the needs of foreigners who are here long term or permanently -to provide them with more rights and create better conditions for them."
So there is a chance that some of these bureaucratic hurdles will be removed in the near future?
"I think this project will show that this would be a good thing to do."
Are there any particular professions that the Czech Republic is interested in?
"No, there is no list of professions, the offer is open to all qualified foreign workers."
So basically anyone has a chance, but people with children have an additional advantage?
"That is so. There is no exclusive list of professions. People can try their luck whatever their profession. And children are, indeed, considered an advantage. We have a low birth rate and we want people who are interested in residing here permanently. Children are a good anchor in the integration process, they go to school, they pick up the language quickly and they settle down very easily."
What does the Czech Republic offer these foreign workers in return?
"The main thing we are offering is a better chance of getting permanent residence in the country. Instead of ten years they would acquire it in two and a half to three years' time."
What about housing- they are going to bring their families?
"Well, this project is aimed at qualified foreign workers, at people who should be potentially successful. And if you cannot find accommodation, rent a flat or a house then that is a sign that you do not have that quality, that you are not the person we are looking for."
So you are not actually offering accommodation, they would have to find that by themselves?
"That is correct, we are not assisting them in any way in this respect. They are free to suit themselves."
When they come, do you help them to find a job or do they have to find one on their own? How far does cooperation with you go?
"This is the first year of the pilot project and the project as such is quite revolutionary for Czech conditions. So we are starting small scale. Anyone entering the project at this point must already have a work permit and to have that means that you must have a job and a contract with your future employer. But once the project is up and running we feel that -at some point in the future - it would be very useful to also have a list of potential applicants from which Czech employers could select work candidates."
When they come to the Czech Republic do they have to sign anything committing them to remaining in the country for any given period of time?
"No, they don't. Once they apply to the project and meet all the criteria they will be evaluated by computer which will give them a certain amount of points, based on language skills, work experience and so on. As long as they stay in the Czech Republic they remain in that data base. Once they leave they are dropped and they loose the chance to get permanent residence papers under the advantageous conditions I mentioned."
Did you have any particular reason to pick the three countries that you picked -Bulgaria, Croatia and Kazachstan?
"Well, we really had to start somewhere. This is a pilot project, funds are limited so we have chosen only three countries for a start. They were chosen mostly because their educational systems are very good and they each have a qualified workforce. These countries also have a tradition in migration, they have people who are willing to leave their country and try their luck somewhere else. After five years we would like to extend this project to the whole world which will enable us to figure out from which regions there is an interest. So after a certain time we can say: OK, there is a big interest from eastern Europe, no interest from the US and some interest from Japan -for instance. At this point everything's open. Even a negative result is valuable information for us. Either there is no interest from that region or your offer is not good enough."
This step is obviously necessary - it is in fact inevitable - but do you think that Czech society is prepared for it?
"I think that one of the biggest problems of this society is that people haven't met enough foreigners. They just read about them in the tabloid press .When more of them come and they gain personal experience they will learn that they have much in common with these people. And when these qualified foreign experts come to the Czech Republic with their families, settle down, earn good money and buy a good house it will help their Czech neighbours to realize that foreigners are not something they should fear - on the contrary."
For more information on the project please contact the press department of the International Organization for Migration tel: 420/ 2333 70 160, mob. 603 518855
Application forms can be filled in at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs ie. at Vysehradska street 43, Prague 2.
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