Slovakia’s shortage of qualified labour is currently one of the country’s more serious economic issues. However, when it comes to the employment of non-EU nationals, Slovakia has perhaps the strictest rules among all V4 countries. To obtain consent for employment or a work permit for non-EU nationals in Slovakia is quite complicated and in many cases almost impossible. The illegal employment of foreign nationals is punishable by severe sanctions including fines, loss of public subsidies, loss of the right to use certain simplified procedures for the employment of foreign nationals and, under certain circumstances, criminal liability.

Given the current situation, it is no surprise that the Slovak government has decided to take measures to liberalise the conditions for the employment of non-EU nationals in the country. Parliament has approved amendments to the Employment Services Act that implement several important changes effective as of 1 May 2018:

  • The new rules apply to districts where the average recorded unemployment rate for the previous year was less than 5%. There are currently 42 districts in Slovakia that meet the above requirement.
  • The Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family has the power to identify job positions that face workforce shortages on or before 31 January each calendar year. The initial list of such job positions is supposed to be published by 30 June 2018.
  • Obtaining the consent of the local employment office with the employment of non-EU nationals for the above-described job positions should be easier and quicker.
  • The total number of non-EU nationals cannot exceed 30% of an employer’s total headcount, which is calculated based on the number of employees with an employment agreement for at least one half of the set number of full-time weekly working hours.
  • Employers who breached a ban on illegal employment within the past two years of an application for the employment of a non-EU national are excluded from the benefit of using the above procedures. Illegal employment is defined rather broadly and includes, for example, the late registration of employees with the Social Insurance Authority.

With these new changes, the Slovak government is apparently signalling its readiness to ease the door open to its labour market for non-EU nationals. However, there are some aspects that are out of the control of Slovak politicians:

  1. Ukraine and Serbia are seen by many as the most promising sources of labour for Slovakia. But is this really the case? Our own research shows that western Ukraine suffers from a lack of qualified labour itself, as a large part of its population has already immigrated to the EU (mostly to Poland). However, a qualified workforce may still be found in central and eastern Ukraine.
  2. Will there be any serious interest on the part of Ukrainian and Serbian nationals to work in Slovakia? Our research suggests that Slovakia continues to be some sort of “terra incognita” for the population in central and eastern Ukraine. In our view, the idea that Ukrainians will come to help the Slovak economy and will work for minimum wage is unrealistic.
  3. Is the Slovak population ready to accept the inflow of foreign workers? Until recently, Slovakia has not been seen as an attractive destination for immigration. This is could be a reason why xenophobia has not, as yet, been a very serious problem for Slovakia. But the situation can change. Quite a popular joke now is that “We (Slovaks) do not want foreign workers here, but we are proud of our Nastja very much”. Nastja, or Anastasia Kuzmin, a naturalised Slovak from Russia, won three medals for Slovakia at the Olympic Games in PyeongChang and became the most successful Olympic representative in the history of Slovakia.

Another question is how attractive the new rules will be for employers. Extra costs associated with the legalisation governing the employment of non-EU nationals may discourage some employers from bringing their employment policies in compliance with the law. Officially there were 12,184 Serbian nationals and 4,300 Ukrainian nationals employed in Slovakia in 2017. The majority of them were employed under the regime of statutory exemptions that do not require the obtaining of Slovak work or residence permits. The most frequently used are apparently exemptions applicable for the outsourcing of services and the provision of repair or maintenance services. The Slovak authorities have expressed concern over the misuse of the regime of exemptions and have promised to be more active in fighting cases of circumvention of the law. Therefore, even if some “tricks” seem to be effective cost-saving measures now, they can very quickly turn out to be expensive.