Czechs seek replacements for drained brains


Highly skilled Czechs are tempted by job opportunities in the ‘old’ EU countries. Not being able to fulfill the local demand for specialists can undermine the country’s potential for economic growth, a study warns.

The study analyses the need for qualified labour in different ‘old’ member states and compares the data with the need for qualified labour in the Czech Republic. It also tackles Czech policies aimed at preventing brain-drain and deals with the reasons Czech specialists have to move westward.

From the comparison it follows that the demand for qualified labour exceeds the supply in almost the same areas for both ‘old’ member states (EU-15) and the Czech Republic. On both sides, there are shortages of physicians and highly skilled healthcare personnel, of IT specialists, managers and business professionals, of experts in electrical, electronic and machine-engineering professions. Consequently, qualified workers that are looked after in the Czech labour market are at the same time that much sought after in the EU-15.

The study cites Germany as an example of a country which imposed transitional measures while at the same time it adopted a ‘New immigration law’ seeking to attract highly qualified workers such as researchers, IT specialists and physicians in order to fill the gap between labour demand and supply.

On the other hand, the Czech Republic is trying to attract skilled migrants too. In 2003, the country launched, as the first among a group of transition economies, a pilot project called ‘Active Selection of Qualified Foreign Workers‘ which is focused on attracting workers from non-EU countries. The project represents a first step on the way towards creating a consistent immigration policy. The leading principle is to deal with well-skilled foreigners’ applications for residence permits in the Czech Republic much faster than with regular applications, which can take very long. 

The project is not limited to certain professions, the main criterion being the country of origin. Foreign applicants have to be at least high-school graduates and must have their employment agreed prior to their arrival. According to authors of the study, this requirement to have a job agreed beforehand is the major reason for the very low rate of participation in the project. 

In order to raise the rate, the Czech Ministry of Labour launched a website called ‘
Jobs for Foreigners
‘, which is meant to help foreigners find a job in the Czech Republic. However, the site has only a very limited amount of vacancies to offer, the quality of which is not too high. The authors of the study therefore ask whether such an approach is really an effective way of attracting foreign labour.

The overall level of qualification quality of the Czech labour force is relatively high, the reason for this is the high proportion of intermediately skilled workers. On the other hand, there is a shortage of graduate-level specialists, which make up only 13% of the Czech workforce, as compared to 25% in the EU-15. The authors suggest that the weak links between the Czech education system and the country’s labour market may be one of the reasons for this disproportion.

The study also tackles motivations of skilled Czech workers to search for a job in western countries such as the EU-15 and the USA. The authors suggest that the level of wages may not be the main criterion. Wages tend to be more important for intermediate and less qualified workers, while in the case of highly qualified workers, experiences and acquiring knowledge become crucial.

Still, the RILSA study suggests, financial motives are a very important factor. Referring to both foreign and national analyses, the study states that a strong incentive to move abroad is given when the income level in a foreign country is triple the domestic one. On the other hand, the propensity to migrate is not affected when the income level abroad is only twice as high as in a worker’s country of origin. A comparison of Czech specialists’ purchasing power to their counterparts in EU-15 countries shows that Czechs have approximately 40% of the real income of their colleagues. The motivation to move westwards, therefore, remains significant.

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When the Czech Republic became a member of the EU in May 2004, all but three EU-15 countries imposed so-called transitional measures, which presently still restrict access to the labour markets of seven countries, including the Czech Republic's neighbours, Austria and Germany. France and the Benelux have decided to exclude some groups of professionals from these measures. For many skilled workers, this opened up opportunities to leave the country and work abroad.

The term 'brain drain' is commonly used to describe the emigration of the best-qualified sections of the workforce to other countries. When a country faces brain drain, it has two options. It can either support specialists within its borders or cerate suitable policies to bring in specialists from abroad. 

Jana Vavreckova's team at the Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA) in Prague has produced a study entitled 'Skilled labour migration and the need for qualified labour'.

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