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migrationtothecentre › Playing the Hot Potato in Slovakia

Playing the Hot Potato in Slovakia

Zuzana Bargerová | 10. 4. 13
The first Slovak phase of the Migration to the Centre project focused on employment and experience with the integration of migrants into the labour market. Two experts of the Human Rights League rated effectiveness of the current Slovak migration policy and three migrants provided views from their individual perspective. In the public debate with a provocative title "What have you done today for foreigners?" organized within the Fjúžn multi-genre festival , four professionals from different fields of expertise discussed immigration and entry procedures for a purpose of employment - the former director of the Department of Foreign Police of the Bureau of Border and Alien Police, Mr. Tvorík, a political economist Lucia Kureková, immigration lawyer Zuzana Bargerová, and Czech attorney, Pavel Čižinský. The main topic of discussion between professionals was labour migration policies and legal conditions for obtaining a residence for the purpose of employment. Debate provided a space for public to ask questions.
Slovakia was traditionally country of emigrants, but in the recent history, situation is changing, numbers of EU and third countries nationals keep growing, with a very small stagnation (in 2008) due to economic recession and tightening of immigration policies (please see below total numbers of registered foreigners from 2000 to 2012).

Numbers of migrants (EU[1] and third-country nationals) as at 31 December of relevant year:


Source: Statistics of UHCP

Numbers of third-country nationals (from 2004 to 2012) with valid residence permit; as at 31 December of relevant year:


Source: Statistics of UHCP

On the other hand, since Slovak accession to EU, numbers of asylum seekers are gradually decreasing, from 3,549 in 2005 – to 732 by December 2012. Number of persons granted asylum remains consistently low. From 2000 to end of May 2012, asylum was only granted to 618 applicants.

Why then people immigrate to Slovakia?

Generally everyone has its own individual reasons, but residence possibilities for third country nationals are limited and vary according to a legal purpose. There are 3 types of residence available pursuant to Act on Residence of Foreigners[3]; Permanent, Temporary and Tolerated Residence and a “declaration” of the Right of Residence of Family Member of Union Citizen, who is a third country national.

Under general scheme, above Act recognizes 10 different purposes of Temporary residence for new coming migrants, such as employment, business, study, family reunification, special activities or a tool for highly skilled third country nationals, so called Blue card.

There are basically two reasons for granting a Permanent residence, such as family reunification (any time after arrival) and a prolongation of this residence to settled migrants (after 4 years of permanent residence) or as an EU long term residence (after 5 years of a legal stay).

Tolerated stay is mixture of different reasons, a type of residence that can be granted upon application to a foreigner in serious life situations, for instance if there is an obstacle to his/her administrative expulsion, or if he/she cannot simply exit the country without a travel document, in cases when the person does not have a passport but his/her family life must be respected, it can be granted also to victims of human trafficking or to unaccompanied minors.

When it comes to numbers, there were 25,019 third country nationals officially permitted in the end of 2O12 in Slovakia. Out of them, only 3,976 were issued a work permit. Among new-coming migrants temporary permits for purpose of enterprise (2339), employment (2996) and family reunification (2367) prevail. Other types of temporary stay are in practice used very rarely.


Public debate at Fjúžn festival focused on complexity of the above legislation, on topics that all four experts deal in their daily life, on tools and ways to enter the labour market and immigration procedures as a hinder to migration management.

Third-country nationals who want to be employed in Slovakia generally must be very determined to start working in Slovakia, to obtain a “work permit” or a confirmation from the Central Office of Labour; afterwards to apply for a residence. Motivation is the most important part of the process. Question during a discussion arose several times, if the country is also motivated enough to accept migrants, whether the policy makers know what is in its benefit and who are those who are welcome to participate on the labour market. Pavel Čižinský expressed the opinion that both our states fail in defining their needs.

Specific restrictions in connection with the employment of migrants, relate to persons that were granted temporary residence for example for the purpose of employment or business, or tolerated stay. [4] Legislation is quite complicated and creates a number of different employment regimes: Some categories of migrants cannot work full time, or cannot work with certain types of contracts. Some cannot start work sooner than after one year after arrival, or cannot work at all. Pursuant to experts state sometimes forces them to perform illegal activities in order to survive, or leave the country.

Among all legal purposes of residence special attention from the perspective of labour migration policy deserves the new immigration institute, a Blue Card, introduced by amendment to Act on residence of foreigners of 29 June 2011, effective from 20 July 2011.[5] Highly qualified applicant for a blue card must document 1) an achieved professional qualification necessary for the job which is a university degree or five years of experience in the field, 2) confirmation consent from the UPSVaR,[6] 3) proposed wage must be at least 1.5 times the average wage in the given branch of a national economy and 4) the applicant must have an employment contract or a written promise of the employer.

Blue card institute was also discussed during Fjuzn debate. Also Zuzana Števulová and Zuzana Bargerová, in their articles, concluded that the Blue Card as an instrument fails to fulfil its function from the perspective of a migration policy. Both suggest that Slovakia lacks a real motivation and willingness to realize the potential of migration. Interest in protecting the country from immigration is in fact considered a major deciding factor. The Fjuzn debate came in to similar conclusion. Lucia Kurekova addressed several obstacles to immigration, such as complicated family reunification procedures and high costs. In her opinion the whole Europe is losing in competition for highly qualified migrants, failing to choose the approach and failing to attract migrants. Zuzana Bargerová is of the opinion that such controlling policy is irrelevant and does not achieve its goals. Regardless of the trend to limit the labour migration and an impact of economic crisis, the numbers of migrants keep growing. In addition, the number of people that can be affected by governmental regulations is negligibly small.

In discussion to the question if “migrants steal jobs” from Slovaks, Milan Tvorík expressed his experience with foreign investors who create jobs for natives. He underlined, that intention to support job creation is included also in legislation. Lucia Kurekova said, there is no evidence on negative aspects related to employment of migrants.


Expert debate about employment of foreigners addressed the integration of humanitarian migrants as well. Zuzana Števulová in her article noted that the State fails to integrate those who are already in Slovakia and who cannot leave. Legislation on the employment of other, less numerous humanitarian migrants, is not perfect. Only 3 of 7 categories of foreigners with tolerated stay permit may be according to the Act on residence of foreigners employed, even after they lived legally in Slovakia for several years. Asylum seekers whose asylum application has not been decided within one year may start to work without work permit with the exception of those foreigners whose asylum application has been dismissed as “unfounded” or “impermissible”. An asylum seeker whose application has not been lawfully decided upon within 1 year can obtain employment if he/she meets the required qualifications.

Persons who are provided a subsidiary protection (because they are subject to a real threat of ill-treatment in their country of origin) can work from 1 May 2013 without need to obtain a work permit. However, their residence card is renewed every year which makes them less attractive for employers in competition to national labour force.


When it comes to range of nationalities in the Slovak labour market until 2012, the majority of work migrants to the Slovak Republic were citizens of other EU countries, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Germany and France. Third country nationals working in Slovakia were mainly from Ukraine, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Vietnam and USA.

Migrants´ articles were all critical. None of our respondents was willing to disclose his/her identity and provide a real name. All of them expressed a fear from consequences if the state officers responsible over their residence will read and react to their opinions.

Mrs. Manush

One of three migrants who provided us an interview was Manush, 66 years old, elegant lady - one out of a few persons in Slovakia who were recognized a mandate refugee by the UNHCR, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Story of Mrs. Manush is touching. Armenian, one out of a few persons in Slovakia who were recognized a mandate refugee by the UNHCR, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, lives in Slovakia for about 20 years. Despite the long time spent in Slovakia, her Slovak is not fluent. She barely understands spoken, due to stress that she is overcoming and a lack of language training opportunities. In the interview she is trying to describe her economic status, touching also her private and family situation. As a widow, she does not have anyone to rely on.

Since her status was granted by an International organization and not by state authorities, Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior refuses to provide her any other assistance as it is available to asylum seekers, except minimum benefits for people in material distress provided by the Labour offices in an amount of 220 EUR/ a month. She has a daughter who does not help her with living even in the worst situations; there are usually NGO´s or religious society who assist her in need.

Her age group is underrepresented among immigrants. Approximately 0.5 % of all migrants are older people reaching retirement age, therefore her story can possibly represent retired migrants without social insurance, who does not have a chance to rest and face homelessness or dependency from warm hearts of strangers.

Thanks to her story we learned about legal gaps in social security legislation and experienced frustration. As it was said, Mrs. Manush in an interview describes her daily fight for living and obstacles that does not allow her to take care of herself, such as lack of job opportunities, a “fall” through state social networks, and missing 4 years of social security payments. Her case is a good example for policy makers illustrating how elderly migrants can be vulnerable even in situation when they were provided an international protection as refugees, paid taxes their whole life and never participated on a social welfare.

Martin´s story

Martin is a young Egyptian professional, who came to Slovakia only 2 years ago, when he followed his Slovak girlfriend. They have met in Cairo and fell in love, quickly standing before decision where their common future lies. Since his education is internationally recognized and experience significant, they decided to move together to Slovakia.

Several months ago therefore Martin tried to apply for a Blue Card for highly qualified employment, when he fulfilled all conditions except the one related to the minimum salary amount. The law on residence of foreigners required 1.2 times of the national economy average which was impossible for him to reach, because the legal wording does not take into account huge differences between average salaries of professions in the whole financial sector. After the failure in the blue card procedure, he applied again for a temporary residence permit for purpose of employment, with the same employer, an international company for which diversity is an integral part to its corporate character. Unfortunately, his former employer decided to move the department where he worked to another EU country and Martin had to leave the company. Now he changed an employer luckily and he is going to start another job with another international company.

His case, unlike the story of Mrs Manush, is representing the experience of a highly skilled young immigrant and a waste of potential and valuable experience, due to incorrectly adjusted rules and perhaps a different setting of the society towards a diversity that can be appreciated in the international company but lacking in the mind-set of Slovak firms. It seems like out of this story we can clearly see that the rules are set by the officers “from the table”, without responsibility for the consequences to the labour market and competitiveness of the Slovak Republic towards other EU countries.

David´s story

“David´s” interview highlighted insecurity of a legal status. It is his 7th year in Slovakia. He finished his postgraduate studies and started to work as a dentist. In this interview he did not want to disclose identity and a country of origin.

The most important topic discussed in the interview was harsh conditions for entry and residence in Slovakia that he is not sure he is going to meet in the future. Seems like interviewee first does not understand why Slovakia ignores prospects of migration for the economy, such as a highly skilled migration as a solution to labour market shortages in certain medical professions. Second, interviewee also does not understand why the traditionally emigration country as Slovakia would have such a negative attitude towards migrants, trying to demotivate them in coming to Slovakia.


[1] From 1 May 2004 EU nationals do not need to apply for a residence permit in Slovakia, their permanent stay can be registered and then number is included in the statistics. Therefore the total displayed number of EU nationals residing in the Slovak Republic in 2004 is not reliable.

[2] After EU accession the total number of EU nationals residing in the Slovak Republic may not be accurate.

[3] Act No. 404/2011 Coll. on Residence of Foreigners and on amendment and supplement of certain laws as amended (hereinafter only as “Act on Residence of Foreigners”).

[4] Bargerová – Divinský: Integrácia migrantov v Slovenskej republike. Výzvy a odporúčania pre tvorcov politík. Bratislava: IOM, 2008.

[5] Act No. 223/2011 Coll. amending and supplementing Act No. 82/2005 Coll. on Illegal Work and Illegal Employment.

[6] Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.

Zuzana Bargerová
Zuzana Bargerová works at the Human Rights League (Liga za ľudské práva) as an immigration lawyer and as a legal researcher cooperates with the CVEK (Center for the research of ethnicity and culture).
The project has been generously supported by the European Commission The "Europe for citizens" programme, International Visegrad Fund and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
Funded by the Europe for
Citizens Programme
of the European Union
Visegrad Fund. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Daniela Pěničková, project coordinator
Phone: (+420) 296 325 345, E-mail:

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