MIGRATION POLICIES OF THE CZECH AND SLOVAK REPUBLICS SINCE 1989 --RESTRICTIVE, LIBERAL, INTEGRATIVE OR CIRCULAR?

AuthorStojarova, Vera
  1. Introduction

    Czech and Slovak migration policies have gone through almost thirty years of development. In 2017, both countries amended their Alien Acts, which have significantly changed the up-to-date practices of migrants. Even though both countries went through common historical and cultural trajectories, they have not followed the same pattern since 1993 regarding the migration policies of their states, and they have shaped their migration policies differently. The aim of the article is to compare the migration policies of the Czech and Slovak republics since 1993.

    The text will regard migration in its broader concept. Migration policy is therefore understood as a set of tools regulating entry to, exit from and residence in the country. It has two components: immigration policy and integration policy. Immigration policy is understood as the regulation of entry and exit, while integration policy is understood as a set of tools offering immigrants the opportunity to settle in the host country and incorporate into the majoritarian society's social-economic and civic systems. In addition to that, the author is aware of the fact that the migration policies of both states have been shaped by international obligations and EU directives. Integration is understood as a process through which immigrants become full and equal participants in the various facets of the society. The article focuses mainly on the autochthonous policies targeting labor migration from third countries adopted freely by the Czech Republic and Slovakia rather than those which were adopted because of EU accession or any other international regulations (1).

  2. Migration flows in the Czech and Slovak republics

    The two states of Czechoslovakia were ones of emigration rather than of immigration until the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The regime change constituted a milestone and both countries enjoyed a rise in immigration due to the liberal regime compared to both previous regime as well as later ones. Since 1993, the countries followed different paths--the Czech Republic became a country of immigration while Slovakia remained a country of emigration (Szczepanikova, 2013; Bolecekova, 2014). The location of both countries in Central Europe, accompanied with not very favorable political opportunity structures, made them transit countries for migrants from the east and south. Figures from 2016 show that the percentage of foreign born nationals is higher in the Czech Republic--4.4%, while in Slovakia it is 1.7%; the main acceleration of immigration was seen in the context of the EU accession.

    Even though the figures from the Czech Republic are far behind those of older member states (average 8-10%), the country is one of the new member states with the highest number of foreign born nationals, whereas Slovakia remains in the tail of the EU statistics. In the Czech Republic, the main countries of origin are Ukraine, Slovakia, Vietnam and Russia, while Slovakia is one of the few EU countries where most of the foreign population consists of nationals of other EU countries--the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The number of foreigners in both countries has been gradually rising with a few exceptions (related either to stricter Aliens Acts, as a result of the economic crisis, or as a reaction to the EU accession); hence, within ten years' time there were five times more foreigners in both countries than in 1993.

    The main purposes of immigration in both countries are employment, education and family reunification. The majority of immigrants in the Czech Republic are employed in the low-skilled sector with the exception of the Slovaks. A large proportion of them are applicants for university studies, and the age and educational structure differs significantly from the immigrants from Ukraine or other countries. In the case of the Slovak university students, the situation can be even described as a brain drain from Slovakia's point of view and brain gain from the perspective of the Czech Republic (Frank, Prochazka and Stojar, 2018, p. 3). In Slovakia, the majority of immigrants are employed in the high-skilled sector, which is being interpreted as a lack of domestic highly skilled labor. Slovakia saw a sharp drop in the share of persons from third countries and a rise in the proportion of persons from the EU since 2000, while the latter has prevailed since 2005. This implies the country's preference for immigration from other EU states. Greater representation of adult men also suggests a preference for labor migration as opposed to other types of migration, being concentrated in its capital, Bratislava, and other big cities. Labor migration became the most rapidly developing of all migration flows to Slovakia in the 2000-2016 period (Divinsky, 2017).

    2.1. Migration policy of the Czech Republic and Slovakia since 1989

    Migration policies of both countries were formed by international treaties (UN, Council of Europe, and ILO) and were shaped by the EU accession in 2004 and the entry into the Schengen area in 2007. Last but not least, the 'migration crisis' contributed to the latest developments in the migration policies of both countries. The conceptualization of the migration policies is more or less the same as stemming from the international obligations, and includes both migration as well as integration (Ministerstvo vnitra Ceske republiky, 2015; The Government of the Slovak Republic, 2011).

    Czech scholars usually categorize the evolution of Czech migration policy into periods based on the changes in the migration legislation and the general stance towards migration in the context of the overall economic situation (Drbohlav et al., 2010, p. 71). The first phase (1990-1996) is characterized by the fact that the migration policy was not among the priorities of the first post-communist governments. The first migration law valid for both parts of the Czech and Slovak federation was adopted in 1992 (Act no. 123/1992 Coll.). It basically enabled anyone to settle in the country without limiting any of his/her activities, and allowed an applicant to apply for both long-term and permanent visas directly in the country. Migrants could not apply for Czech citizenship. The permanent residence permit was granted, for the purpose of uniting a family, if the family member resided permanently in the CSFR (Czech and Slovak Federal Republic), or in other humanitarian cases, or if justified by the foreign policy interests of the CSFR (Act no. 123/1992 Coll.).

    The second stage (1996-1999) was characterized by the institutionalization of the migration policy as a reaction to illegal migration and rising unemployment, and culminated in the adoption of the Migration Law. The most important change was the introduction of permanent residence after the fulfilment of ten years of consecutive residence, and it became possible to apply for the visa only outside the territory of the Czech Republic. The period culminated in the adoption of the new Aliens Act (no. 326/1999 Coll.). The Czech Republic also revoked its non-visa agreements with many of the post-Soviet countries, which were the main migrants' countries of origin. The Asylum Law (no. 325/1999) replaced the Refugee Law (no. 498/1990 Coll.) and meant to harmonize with the EU laws. For the asylum seekers, it meant to grant access to the labor market, free movement in the territory of the Czech Republic, provision of accommodation, food and pocket money.

    The third stage (2000-2004), called the consolidating era, meant the convergence of Czech and EU laws, the mobilization of the civil society and institutionalization of the migration policy. The Czech state initiated a regulated migration with a new project focusing on qualified workers, initially from three countries (Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and Croatia). Nevertheless, not many applications turned up, so the project was extended and more countries were included (Drbohlav et al., 2010, p. 79).

    The short fourth period (2005-2007) started with the EU accession and is sometimes labelled as the neoliberal period. It was accompanied by low unemployment, economic rise and the steady rise in the immigration. The minimum period of consecutive residence needed for the permanent residence dropped to five years, and the migrants with permanent visas gained a more secure position. The neo-restrictive (since 2008) period has been typified by restrictive state policies based on security arguments (Kusnirakova and Cizinsky, 2011, p. 71). The revision of the Asylum and Migration Law (no. 314/2015 Coll.) was planned in order to comply with the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), but the parliamentary debate and the outcome were also influenced by the 2015 migration wave. On one hand, this meant that asylum seekers had more open access to the labor market (the time limit dropped from 12 to 6 months), nonetheless, on the other hand, the time period for the decision was extended from 90 days up to 6 months, while the Ministry of Interior (MoI) was able to interrupt the procedure when the situation in the origin country was 'unstable'. Human rights activists criticized the 2015-2016 amendments for, among other things, extending the maximum time limit needed for the procedure, for not fully transposing the EU directive on the judicial review ex nunc, and for restricting lawyers from participating in the asylum seeker interviews with the MoI. However, the amendments offered more liberal access to the labor market than did the EU laws (an asylum seeker is granted a work permit only after 9 months of residence, according to the EU regulations).

    Czech migration law continued on its restrictive path. The new law was passed two years later (in 2017) and resulted in more restricted conditions for residence. It was met with opposition from human rights activists, lawyers, and business unions, and it was returned by the Senate to the Parliament as not being in line with the Constitution. In the end...

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