Migrants wanted – but will they help?

Foreigner-friendly is certainly not the first description to come to mind when thinking of Slovakia. But despite that, and despite the increasing unemployment rate, the country will soon need an inflow of migrant workers from abroad to patch up the holes in its labour market and sate the hunger of businesses for a larger qualified workforce.

Carmakers have already complained about the lack of qualified labour.Carmakers have already complained about the lack of qualified labour. (Source: SITA)

Foreigner-friendly is certainly not the first description to come to mind when thinking of Slovakia. But despite that, and despite the increasing unemployment rate, the country will soon need an inflow of migrant workers from abroad to patch up the holes in its labour market and sate the hunger of businesses for a larger qualified workforce.

“The current demographic trends show that the Slovak labour market, as well as the social security system, are significantly dependent on the inflow of human capital from abroad,” states the Migration Policy of the Slovak Republic with an Outlook until 2020, passed by the cabinet on August 31, 2011.

But experts warn that migration doesn’t have the potential to solve Slovakia’s ongoing problems with an inadequate labour force. They argue that the state should focus more on developing its education system, including life-long learning programmes. This is particularly true for workers trained to work with new technologies, and it is not a problem of Slovakia alone, but occurs in practically all countries, according to Michal Páleník from the Employment Institute think tank.

Another problem contributing to the inadequacy of Slovakia’s qualified labour force is an insufficient inflow of workers with secondary education, and of graduates from vocational schools.
“These could fill the vacant job positions in production companies or in services,” Páleník told The Slovak Spectator. “Instead, the majority of young people study at grammar schools.”

The Labour Ministry noted the lack of a qualified labour force in construction (masons, tilers, construction tinsmiths, construction labourers), and in professions such as welders, metal-processing workers, lathemen, electricians and plumbers. Qualified workers are also missing in the spheres of commerce and services, particularly gastronomy, according to Mária Račková from the ministry’s press department.

Finally, there is a big mismatch between the composition of university graduates and the needs of the labour market, as universities annually produce insufficient numbers of IT graduates, as well as graduates from other disciplines that are relatively new, Páleník noted.

Migrants in Slovakia

Statistics detailing the numbers of immigrants coming to Slovakia prove the experts right when they say that migration is not going to solve the country’s problems. Statistically, Slovakia has one of the lowest numbers of incoming migrants of any EU country. The number of migrants with valid residence permits in Slovakia almost tripled between 2004, when Slovakia accessed the EU, and 2009, to over 62,000 foreigners living in the country. But this remains only 1.16 percent of Slovakia’s population, according to the data of the Slovak Statistics Office. The majority (over 60 percent) of them were migrants from EU or EEA countries, mostly Czechs, Romanians and Poles.

Moreover, the number of migrants legally working in Slovakia reached, as of June 2011, only slightly more than 20,000 persons. This is only 0.38 percent of the entire population of the country, and 0.75 percent of the economically active population, according to statistics from the Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family (ÚPSVAR).

Still, migrant numbers are growing and Slovakia is increasingly becoming a final destination for migrants working here, not merely a transit country, as was the case in the past.

To respond to the challenges of the labour market, the Slovak government has declared it wants to be “active and flexible” in welcoming foreigners to the country, focusing on migrants with high qualifications, particularly in those professions where a lack of qualified labour is hindering the flow of new investment into the country.

New migration policy

To support the strategy, the cabinet proposes several measures intended to encourage Slovakia to become more attractive and welcoming to qualified migrants, among them a ‘Slovak Card’, a modification of the EU’s Blue Card for migrants. The cabinet also pledges to redefine the conditions for recognition of foreign diplomas and qualifications, in order to avoid skills being wasted.

Integration of migrants who decide to live and work in Slovakia receives considerable attention in the migration policy, which reads that Slovakia leans towards an integration model “based on the full acceptance of the reality of the Slovak Republic by migrants”. The proclaimed aim of the integration policy is to prevent the emergence of economically, socially, and culturally excluded communities, i.e. ghettos.

Full integration also includes mastering the Slovak language. The migration policy document reads that the government wants to make Slovak-language lessons and classes in “socio-cultural orientation” more accessible. The document also refers to the creation of a unified methodology for testing Slovak-language skills in migrants with low qualifications.

Blue cards

In addition, Slovakia is now also able to issue the EU Blue Card. Under the Blue Cards scheme, qualified foreigners who are interested in working in Slovakia are able to apply for a Blue Card, which allows the holder, a qualified foreigner from a third country (a country outside the EU) to work and live in any EU country.

Individuals with a university degree, or more than five years of professional experience which is comparable to a university education, qualify for the admission card. Applicants must also provide evidence of a job offer that guarantees a salary at least 1.5 times the average monthly salary in Slovakia in their particular economic sector. The legislation states that the card will cost €165.50 and will be issued for a three-year period.

So far, Slovakia has issued no blue cards to migrants from third countries, Račková said, but several companies in Bratislava have shown interest in having blue cards issued for computer programmers from Kazakhstan and Russia for managerial positions. Officially, however, only one application was filed, for the position of a sales manager, Račková said, which was refused due to formal mistakes in the application and the attached graduation certificate.

“The main obstacle that the applicants, or their employers, seem to be facing, is the complexity and lengthiness of the procedure for verifiying graduation certificates issued in foreign countries,” Račková told The Slovak Spectator.


Experts, however, warn that encouraging migration is not sufficient to heal the pains of Slovakia’s labour market, despite the government’s ambitious plans to become a migrant-attractive country.
“Blue cards should attract highly-qualified migrants, but the question is whether these people will choose Slovakia or will prefer Germany, for instance,” Páleník told The Slovak Spectator.

The Labour Ministry admits that immigrants could only fill the vacant jobs in Slovakia to a certain extent. Račková echoed Páleník’s concerns, stating that the lack of a labour force in the health-care and manufactuing industries is a problem in other EU countries as well, and that several of these offer more lucrative job conditions than Slovak companies can. She concluded that workers are most likely to come to Slovakia from Ukraine (in the health-care sector), and from the USA, Russia and Serbia (in the IT and energy sectors).

Slovakia is far from being attractive to migrant workers according to Páleník, primarily because of the language, which is very important in most jobs. Lower salaries, as well as a lower quality of life, compared to western-European countries such as Austria and Germany also leave Slovakia lagging well behind. Finally, a strict immigration policy also contributes.

“It is much more desirable to focus on filling [vacant] job positions with local people, and so lower the unemployment rate, than it is to focus on importing workers from abroad,” Páleník stated.

More information about Slovak business environment you can find in our Investment Advisory Guide.

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