In reaction to the missile attacks on Ukraine by Russian troops in October 2022, there has been a dynamic change in immigration laws governing the arrival and stay of Ukrainian and Russian citizens in the Czech Republic and the EU.

Temporary protection extended until 31 March 2024

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU activated temporary protection for refugees escaping the war, which applied to all member states. As a result, Ukrainians, their family members and some other categories of refugees who fled Ukraine on or after 24 February 2022 were eligible for temporary protection in the Czech Republic and, consequently, gained free access to the Czech labour market. In addition, temporary protection also ensures public health insurance for 150 days, access to education and the right to receive additional assistance (e.g. accommodation). Unlike regular residence permits for employment purposes, temporary protection must be granted to anybody who applies for it and complies with the statutory criteria.

Originally, the temporary protection visas were granted for up to one year: until 31 March 2023 at the latest. Due, however, to the continuation of the conflict and the intensification of Russian aggression in Ukraine in October 2022 the EU decided to prolong temporary protection on 10 October 2022 for another year: until the end of March 2024. In addition, Ukrainian refugees will keep their temporary protected status even if they leave the EU and return home. This change reflects the instability in Ukraine and ensures that refugees who went home can return to the EU if forced to flee again.

In terms of implementing this extension into Czech national law, the amendment to the Czech act implementing temporary protection has not yet been adopted and the exact procedure to prolong the temporary protection visa is still unclear. The draft law, which is at the early stage of the legislative process, is likely to encapsulate one of two scenarios.

Under the first scenario, Ukrainians will need to visit the Ministry of Interior (i.e. the competent Department of Asylum and Migration Policy) in person to obtain a new visa stamp confirming the extension of temporary protection until March 2024. Given that 437,000 refugees have received temporary protection visas in the Czech Republic since March 2022, it will not be possible to deal with all extension requests simultaneously. A streamlined process has been proposed. Ukrainians hoping to stay in the Czech Republic after 31 March 2023 will need to book an appointment electronically at the Ministry of Interior by 31 March 2023. After successfully registering, they must visit the appropriate office no later than 30 September 2023 in order to receive a new visa stamp in their passports. Those individuals who fail to meet these deadlines will lose temporary protection.

The second scenario relies solely on electronic registration with no need to receive the visa stamp. This second scenario is being considered because of its indisputable time and cost efficiency.

Long-term permits for students from Ukraine and Belarus

Until recently, Ukrainian refugees who obtained or applied for temporary protection in another EU member state were not allowed to apply for long-term immigration permits in the Czech Republic.

From 15 October 2022, however, Ukrainian refugees who have received or applied for temporary protection in any other EU member state can apply for a long-term visa or long-term residence permit for study purposes in the Czech Republic. These individuals must submit their application either at the Czech embassy in Kyiv or the Czech Consulate General in Lviv, Ukraine, which is an unfortunate rule given that the high number of Ukrainians who have either obtained or applied for temporary protection in the EU continue to reside in the EU. According to this stipulation, if these individuals wish to relocate to the Czech Republic for study purposes, they must return to Ukraine to file visa applications.

This new possibility is open to students attending university study programmes accredited by the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, and to students participating in scholarship programmes. Visas to join scholarship programmes are newly available to Belarusian students as well, who can file applications at the Czech embassy in Minsk.

Ukrainians who obtained temporary protection in the Czech Republic can study here without limitation.

Further visa restrictions for Russians and Belarusians

The Czech Republic was among the first EU member states to suspend the issuance of visas to Russian citizens on 25 February 2022, the day after the invasion in Ukraine. This ban was later extended to Belarusians. As a result, Russians and Belarusians cannot obtain Czech visas with minor exceptions (e.g. humanitarian reasons, students who obtain scholarships). Furthermore, from 25 October 2022, the Czech government has prohibited entry to Russians and Belarusians who travel to the Czech Republic for tourism, sport or culture based on a Schengen visa issued by another EU member state.

Due to the absence of border controls within the Schengen area, this restriction effectively impacts only individuals who cross the external Schengen border when entering the Czech territory (i.e. those who travel through international airports). Although the impact is limited, the Czech government adopted the restriction to send a clear message of support for Ukraine.