Switzerland’s vote in favour of imposing quotas on EU migrants has put migration issues very much in the spotlight. While the Czech Republic has criticized the Swiss decision and stressed it has no plans to restrict the movement of EU citizens, it has its own migration headache. Its immigration policy with respect to non-EU members remains tough, despite an aging population and a need for skilled workers. Commentator Jiri Pehe says that this is something that will need to change.
“I think that the Czech Republic is not fully saturated when it comes to the influx of immigrant workers. We hear concerns from Czech politicians that the Czech Republic has a very low birth rate and the Czech economy may not be competitive soon because of shortages of skilled labour or unskilled labour, but at the same time the Czech Republic has one of the most restrictive immigration laws in Europe. It is extremely difficult even for qualified foreigners coming from non-EU countries such as the United States to find their way to the Czech Republic, to process the visa and so on. So the Czech Republic, in the framework of the EU structure has one of the most restrictive immigration policies and I think that the country needs to go in the other direction rather than tightening its current legal framework.”
With its aging population the Czech Republic will have to take in more and more foreigners in the coming years –is the country prepared for that?
“Well, I am afraid the Czech Republic is not prepared for that because its immigration policies are really not well-designed. On the one hand the country needs highly skilled people who are associated with industries that are still developing in the Czech Republic, such as experts in IT and high tech and so on, who should find it easier to come here and settle here than they currently do. Then there is a large number of international students who find it difficult to come to the Czech Republic because of all the visa restrictions and bureaucratic obstacles. So this is one area where the Czech Republic could do much better in my opinion. Also, the Czechs are in a privileged position – they really do not need to repeat the mistakes of other western countries where immigrants were let in from all over the world without really setting any criteria. The Czechs could absorb large numbers of immigrants who are basically culturally very similar to the Czech population – people from Ukraine, Russia, Romania and so on –people who are interested in coming here and who have skills. At the same time it seems to me that there is really no coherent policy with regard to this and that is why I think the Czech Republic needs to think about this strategically.”