Settlement Strategies of Czech Chinese

Marketa Moore and Czeslaw Tubilewicz (2001) mention two major conditions of Chinese migration to Czechia: the absence of an active migration policy to discourage foreigners from settling permanently and the Chinese perception of Czechia as a gateway to the EU (cf. Chu 2009). There was no active migration policy until Czechia joined the EU in 2004. However, because of the Sino-Czechoslovakian visa agreement of 1956, Chinese citizens with service passports were entitled to visa-free entry. This was the easiest administrative way to get residence status in Czechia (Moore and Tubilewicz 2001).

“Since administrative restrictions made obtaining a work permit in the Czech Republic difficult, the most convenient way to legalize their stay was to set up a company ... This practice inevitably led to an increasing number of Chinese phantom companies that never functioned as business units but acted solely as administrative devices for obtaining residence permits” (Moore and Tubilewicz 2001: 614). In the Czech case the argument of E. M. Mung that “entrepreneurship represents a central element of the strategy that the Chinese employ to reproduce themselves as a group” (Mung 1998: 133) is also valid. However, according to statistics, of 5500 Chinese, only 219 held valid trade licenses. That is low compared with most foreign nationalities and in conflict with the general stereotyping of overseas Chinese as business oriented. Czech Chinese are mostly known for their ethnic restaurants. Most are “low-cost” restaurants customized to the taste of the Czech majority. There are several hundred of them throughout the country. Most Chinese working in restaurants are employees, very often relatives, and few companies and owners run more than one restaurant. Many such restaurants are registered by Czech owners with the Chinese as employees, thus having a Czech business partner was one way of getting a work permit and a residence permit.

In 2001, Moore and Tubilewicz (2001: 615) observed that the Chinese had started to replace their service passports with private ones, which was considered a major shift in their status, from official to migrant. After 2004, the service passport diminished in importance when Czechia joined the EU. Czech immigration policy was reassessed to adhere to EU rules, and work permits for nationals from “third countries” became more accessible and valid throughout the Schengen Area.8 Today, Chinese migrants mostly apply for a work permit, but that makes them much more mobile. The youngest adult Chinese immigrants go to Czechia without prior foreign experience and next to no knowledge of foreign languages, and mainly along established migration chains. This strategy reinforces the domination of migrants from Qingtian in the Chinese community in Prague and Czechia. On the other hand, they are the most fluctuating part of the community.

Between 2010 and 2014 some 14,430 foreigners applied for Czech citizenship, of which 11,802 received it (81.8 %).9 Very few of them were Chinese. The reason lies partially in the de facto status of many Chinese. They do not meet the requirements for Czech citizenship, predominantly because they often leave the country. However, the Chinese do not consider Czechia as their “final” host country, so they have little interest in obtaining Czech citizenship. The EU legal system adopted in 2004 provides foreign nationals with wide autonomy and thus no urgent need for citizenship.

Most applicants were Chinese women marrying Czechs. There have been only 161 such marriages in the last two decades. During the same period, 702 Chinese were born in Czechia, compared with 9000 Vietnamese and 28,549 foreign nationals. So the Chinese comprised 2.5 % of all children born in Czechia to foreigners. The Chinese represent only 1.25 % of the foreign population in the country, so their fertility rate is much higher than the foreigners’ average. However, they are 20 % less fertile than Vietnamese.

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