Changes to Ukrainian refugee status in Czechia: Here's what you need to know

Refugee visas look to be extended till 2025, the Czech Labor Ministry speaks on Ukrainian tax contributions, and UNICEF asserts importance of education. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 14.09.2023 11:08:00 (updated on 16.09.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

Several developments happened in Czechia in the past week regarding the status of Ukrainian refugees: the extension of Ukrainian refugees' visas; comments on Ukrainians' contributions to the economy; changes to the "lex Ukraine" law; and UNICEF underlining the importance of education and equality for Ukrainian refugees.

Temporary protection visas till 2025

The Czech government has taken a significant step towards extending temporary protection for refugees from Ukraine until 2025. An amendment to the law, referred to as "lex Ukraine," has received approval from the government and is now set for debate in the Chamber of Deputies. Interior Minister Vít Rakušan shed light yesterday on the details of the amendment.

The Interior Ministry, responsible for submitting the proposal, asserts that the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine makes it unlikely for Ukrainian refugees to return home anytime soon. Therefore, the amendment seeks to prolong their temporary protection status in Czechia.

Under the proposed changes, refugees will need to re-register their status within the next year. Temporary protection status provides access to public health insurance, education, and the labor market. As per the latest data, Czechia has 365,875 Ukrainians with temporary protection and has issued over half a million visas to Ukrainian citizens.

The process for extending protection will largely remain the same, with refugees required to register online by March 15, 2024, and subsequently visit an Interior Ministry office in person to receive a visa label. This tag will serve as proof of extension, and individuals must obtain it by the end of September next year. Additionally, applicants will now be required to fill out a questionnaire, aiming to provide comprehensive information about education, housing, and household composition of protection holders.

Moreover, the amendment addresses changes in the education system and the rising demand from foreigners seeking assistance in returning to Ukraine. In response, the Interior Ministry intends to establish a separate special program, subject to government approval, to address these specific needs.

Ukrainians in the workplace and changes to 'lex Ukraine'

Ukrainian refugees are already contributing to the Czech economy. According to Labor Minister Marian Jurečka, Ukrainian refugees employed in Czechia contribute up to CZK 15 billion in taxes to the economy per year. 

The Labour Ministry is in the process of preparing another amendment to the "lex Ukraine" law, which extends the support provided to refugees and possibly the financial aid they are eligible for. The rules governing support were last tightened in July.

The state now covers emergency accommodation for five months for working refugees, after which they are required to cover the costs themselves or find alternative accommodation. Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and the disabled continue to receive free accommodation.

Jurečka emphasized the significant contribution of working Ukrainian refugees to Czech society, with many of them employed in various sectors, including services, health, and social care.

He noted that the number of people with temporary protection has been steadily increasing since the beginning of July when rules on support were tightened, resulting in over 9,000 additional refugees joining the Czech labor market.

Data from this summer shows that about two-thirds of working-age Ukrainian refugees work in Czechia.

The Labour Ministry is also preparing a seventh amendment focusing on social assistance, with the aim of providing aid for another year based on an evaluation of humanitarian benefit payments and the income of refugee households following the July changes.

UNICEF: Focus on educating Ukrainians

With the start of the new school year in Czechia, UNICEF is placing significant emphasis not only on enrolling Ukrainian refugee children but also on ensuring the quality of their education and their integration into the community, according to Yulia Oleinik, head of UNICEF's office for supporting the refugee situation in Czechia.

Approximately 80,000 Ukrainian refugee children of school age now reside in the Czech Republic, with 51,000 enrolled in Czech schools. A June survey by PAQ Research showed an impressive 95 percent attendance rate of Ukrainian children in Czech primary schools. Some also continue their studies online in Ukraine. While secondary school enrollment presents challenges, the percentage of Ukrainian children attending Czech secondary schools increased from 43 percent in March to 53 percent in June.

Oleinik acknowledges the complexities for older children, as secondary education is not compulsory in Czechia, and the Ukrainian system allows early graduation, leading many to opt for intensive Czech language courses for university preparation.

Over time, Ukrainian children have recognized the importance of Czech language proficiency for personal development. Some consider pursuing Czech university education to contribute to Ukraine's reconstruction, emphasizing the need to recognize foreign education credentials.

UNICEF collaborates actively with ministries, municipalities, and schools to support Ukrainian refugee children and teachers. Teaching assistant deployment is one form of aid, with 1,200 assistants trained last year.

Oleinik praises the substantial efforts to integrate Ukrainian children into Czech schools, emphasizing the importance of diverse classrooms as a reflection of today's societal norm.

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