SLOVAKIA, like other European countries, faces an aging society and is starting to look beyond its borders to fill in gaps in its labour force. To create a more unified structure for work migration the European Union has developed a system of Blue Cards to allow skilled workers to more easily obtain entry to EU countries. Slovakia is now taking action to transpose the EU’s legislation into its national laws. The Slovak parliament will discuss a draft revision to the country’s law on illegal work as well as an amendment to the law on foreigners staying in Slovakia at its current session that opened on May 17.
“The Blue Card will enable foreigners from third countries [those outside the EU] to live and work in Slovakia,” Natália Hattalová from the press department of the Interior Ministry wrote in a news release. The card will be valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years. An applicant for a Blue Card must have already been offered a so-called highly-qualified job, must possess the required qualifications, and must have a work contract or a written covenant from a specific employer.
If adopted by parliament, Slovakia will start issuing the Blue Card as of July 1, 2011. The administrative fee for a Blue Card is slated to be €165.50, with a renewal fee of €99.50. To be eligible for a Blue Card a migrant’s agreed upon salary must be at least 1.5 times the average salary in Slovakia. The national average monthly salary last year was €769 so the monthly salary for a Blue Card migrant should be about €1,150 or higher.
Slovakia’s aging population
“With an aging population and a very low fertility rate, Slovakia has a serious demographic problem,” Martin Kahanec, scientific director of the Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) in Bratislava, told The Slovak Spectator. “The significant shrinkage of its working-age population projected by demographers for the coming decades poses severe risks for its economy, labour market and public finances.”
Kahanec believes that immigration can significantly alleviate these problems, not only directly through the inflow of young and highly-motivated economic migrants but also by creation of new jobs for Slovak citizens.
“In particular, high-skilled immigrants can fill in bottlenecks in the labour market and thereby buttress the economy and increase demand for the domestic labour force,” said Kahanec.
Kahanec added that from the labour market perspective the primary objective of Slovakia’s migration policy should be to facilitate immigration, integration, and naturalisation of skilled migrants, noting that this could include immigration of well-educated workers but also students who come first to study but who could then stay to work.
Some labour market experts believe that issuing the EU Blue Card will help to draw more experts to Slovakia – but others are not so sanguine.
“The target group should be highly-educated experts. These will also presumably have high salaries,” Michal Páleník of the Employment Institute, an employment think tank, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that establishing the card’s technical conditions is important because the card should be not abused to fill standard work positions. “It is also necessary to have in mind the lives of family members of Blue Card holders. They should also have the possibility to get a job here so the family can fully integrate into society.”
Kahanec perceives the Blue Card as a commendable initiative on the part of the EU but views its potential success in Slovakia as questionable.
“The Blue Card has been watered down under pressure from EU member states and now it offers only fairly limited options for potential immigrants,” said Kahanec. “For example, it does not provide for a transparent and straightforward transition to citizenship. Also, it stipulates too high a threshold for the minimum eligible earnings.”
To attract the required workers who could fill bottlenecks in the Slovak labour market, Kahanec thinks the country should adopt its own targeted migration policy, suggesting that Slovakia should issue its own ‘White-Blue-Red’ Card that would attract skilled immigrants to work, live and possibly naturalise in this country.
“Given the weak position of Slovakia in the global competition for skilled workers, the ‘White-Blue-Red’ Card should stipulate relatively mild conditions,” said Kahanec. “For example, a university degree and an adequate job in Slovakia should suffice. In this way, the market would also solve the question of which jobs should be filled by immigrants.”
Since the Blue Card is targeted only at highly-skilled immigrants, Kahanec understands the reasons for the requirement that a Blue Card applicant must earn more than 1.5 times the average salary in Slovakia, but thinks it is too limiting.
“In particular, it can be expected to select precisely those immigrants that have a high earning potential and are in all likelihood quite skilled,” said Kahanec. “However, I find this threshold too restrictive for many occupations. Imagine a young teacher who would like to come to Slovakia to teach mathematics at a high school. Such a person in my view clearly qualifies for the special regime offered by the Blue Card. But one can hardly expect that teacher to earn more than 1.5 times the average salary in Slovakia. “
Kahanec added that this logic can be applied to many other positions such as physicians or younger workers in general.
“It is precisely such young and skilled people that can help alleviate Slovakia’s demographic and labour market challenges,” Kahanec stressed, and that is why he has proposed the ‘White-Blue-Red’ Card.
Few migrants in Slovakia
The share of migrants and their families in Slovakia’s population of 5.4 million is less than 1 percent according to the results of a survey focusing on work migration conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs among a sample of 350 respondents in 2010 and 2011. Migrants with a university degree dominated among those surveyed, accounting for 47 percent.
Based on statistics released by the Labour, Social Affairs and Family Office (ÚPSVAR) in January, there were almost 18,200 foreigners working in Slovakia at the end of 2010. This was an increase of 3,000 compared to the end of 2009, the SITA newswire reported. Romanians are the largest group, numbering over 2,900, up 538 compared with 2009.
23. May 2011 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková