Prior to 1989, the Czechs had only limited opportunities to meet foreigners. Except for tourists, only students and workers from socialist countries came to our country in small numbers and for limited periods of time. After the borders opened, foreigners took advantage of the relatively liberal approach of the Czech Republic towards them. In addition to transiting foreigners, attracted by our border with Western Europe, we were also a lure for work migration.
The Czech Republic was able to offer better life standard and political stability to people from the East – especially younger men arrived from these countries, leaving behind their families and doing especially unskilled work in the Czech Republic. To the contrary, incomers from the West were a more heterogeneous group and they applied their education in more intellectual professions. Currently, the number of foreigners with legal residence in the Czech Republic amounts to 238,000. Their participation in the population however falls short by far of the level usual, for example, in Austria or Germany – it amounts to one-tenth of this level.
The Czechs do not have very clear picture about how many foreigners reside in our country. A survey investigating, among other matters, how people estimate the numbers of foreigners living in the Czech Republic – both legal foreigners and those who live here without residency permit – demonstrated this fact.
According to data from the Ministry of Interior, 222,000 foreigners had residency permits for the Czech Republic (permanent residence and long-term visa /over 90 days/) in March 2002. Only 18% of the interviewed estimated the number of foreign legal residents at least between 150,000 and 300,000. Other citizens tended to underestimate their number, 70% of them guessed lower values – an estimated 300 legal residents of other nationalities in the Czech Republic was an extreme. On the other side, the number of foreigners with residence permit was overvalued by 12% of respondents. Most frequently mentioned values were 100,000, 50,000, and 10,000 persons.
Exact numbers of foreigners living in the Czech Republic without residency permits is obviously not known, but, for example, Doc. Dušan Drbohlav from the Natural Science Faculty of the Charles University estimates their number to approximately 300,000. A third of those only pass through our country – not wishing to stay longer. For foreigners living in the Czech Republic illegally, the estimates of the respondents were even worse. Only 12% of the interviewed mentioned their numbers at least in the range between 200,000 and 400,000. Lower numbers were mentioned by 78%; most frequently, the mentioned figures were again 100,000, 50,000, and 10,000 persons.