>Slovakia: open for business, open for immigration?

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As Tim Haughton and Darina Malová point out in the latest issue of Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs, even under the lefty nationalist/populist government of Robert Fico, Slovakia is – thanks to pressures of key business groups and its low wage, high(ish) pattern model of integration into the European economy – very open for business. And, logically, but said unusually publicly, it is also open for migration, at least if you happen to be a Ukrainian with skills in the construction industry.
Consistent with Haughton and Malová’s stress on brute business interests as akey social determinant of government policy, a recent issue of Sme reports growing pressure from Slovak employers to open up the Slovak labour market to Ukrainian migrants on a longer term basis, revising the current system whereby most work permits for Ukrainians are issued non-renewably for only one year. Some business leaders even want the quotas restricting Ukrainian migration abolished altogether.

The shortages seem to be for semi-skilled labour predictably, in the construction, manufacturing, garment and agricultural fields. Despite the nationalist colouration of much Slovak politics, the potential growth in Ukrainian migration seems to be received with equanimity by most of the political spectrum with the key obstacle seemingly how quickly Ukrainian and Slovak officials can re-negotiate the technicalities of the existing bilateral agreement dating from 1994 (not very, is the answer there). The most revealing and interesting remark, however, is the comment attributed to Alexander Duleba of the liberal-leaning Slovak Foreign Policy Association thinktank that ‘It is in our interests to have Ukrainians here rather than people from non-European countries, who will pose a problem of integration in terms of culture and customs’. The subtext seemingly being that Slovakia should hoover up the limited supplies of suitably qualified, culturally assimilable migrants before other competitor countries in the CEE region do. However, as Ukraine itself has an ageing population and labour shortages of its own emerging in fields like the construction industry, I doubt whether even the most liberal open door policy to post-Soviet neighbours will avert the need for migration from points further East (and South).

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