As with Polish workers, the United Kingdom has so far been the most popular destination for Czechs looking for foreign job opportunities.
According to government estimates, Czech labour migration peaked between 2005 and 2006, just after the country's EU accession in 2004. Since then, it has started to decline.
Since the Czech Republic's EU accession, Britain has received around 20-40,000 Czech workers. The second most popular destination for Czech jobseekers is Germany (10–30,000) followed by Ireland (10–20,000) and Austria (around 6,000).
According to official estimates, less than 5,000 Czech jobseekers took residence in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Slovakia, and less then 1,000 in any of the other member countries.
It is estimated that around 80,000 Czechs currently work in another EU country, but the exact extent of post-enlargement migration flows is impossible to determine.
This is in part explained by data shortcomings and different methodologies for counting foreign workers in the Union. For example, some EU countries register incoming workers but do not strike them off the list should they later leave the country.
Available data indicate that the number of Czechs interested in working abroad has been continuously declining – from 17.5% in 2003 to 15.4% in 2007. It is also possible that many of those who wanted to leave the country have already done so and that the potential for additional emigration is therefore limited.
Recession deters emigration
Experts say that the main cause underlying the trend most probably relates to the current economic situation. The recession has already led to substantial reductions in the number of jobs available in the EU, and many Czechs working abroad have returned back home as a result. Besides, the Czech koruna significantly appreciated against both the euro and sterling in the 2008-2009 period. Coupled with rising salaries back home, working abroad has therefore become less attractive.
This trend was confirmed by the latest study from the British Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which estimates that the number of Czechs working in the UK has fallen to 23,000 and is constantly decreasing, with half of those who came to find jobs in the UK since 2004 having already left.
Czechs prefer to stay at home
In comparison to other EU member states, the number of Czechs seeking jobs abroad has always been modest. According to a Eurobarometer survey, the Czech Republic and Hungary have rather low intra-EU mobility rates, below or equal to those of many of the EU 15 member states. Some experts explain this phenomenon by referring to language barriers and the higher cost of living in foreign countries. For Czechs, a higher salary abroad does not represent a strong incentive anymore, it seems.
One of the characteristic features of Czech post-enlargement mobility is that most of it is temporary. The majority of those who left stayed abroad for just a few months or years, while only 4% intend to stay on a permanent basis, according to a survey by the Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (VÚPSV).
The study, entitled 'Potential of migrant workers after the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU', also shows that while 15% of the working population consider working abroad as an option, a much smaller proportion actually leave.
Like neighbouring Slovakia (EurActiv 19/10/09), another typical feature is the young age of Czechs working abroad. Often, they are people who studied in another member state and subsequently found employment there. However, as such jobs tend to be below their skill levels, they have extra motivation to return home.
Abolition of borders: A Czech priority in the EU context
The Czech government made the abolition of transitional periods for workers in Germany and Austria one of the priorities of its EU presidency in the first half of 2009 (see EurActiv LinksDossier on the Czech EU Presidency).
The Czech Presidency's arguments echoed the conclusions of the European Commission's report on the impact of free movement of workers in the context of EU enlargement (November 2008).
Czech leaders kept stressing that post-enlargement mobility has generally had a clear positive impact on economic growth in the EU and has not seriously disturbed national labour markets. The government in Prague also warned that restrictions on the free movement of workers may encourage the growth of the black labour market.
Unlike other policy issues during the recent Czech EU Presidency, the abolition of transitional periods was supported by all the political parties, irrespective of their ideology.