On 1 January 2011 controversial new immigration laws relating to foreigners from third countries (other than EU) came into force in the Czech Republic.

A new type of permit – the Blue Card - has been introduced for highly skilled workers from outside the EU. Applicants will have to demonstrate that they have a University background, are intending to work in the Czech Republic for at least a year and will be earning at least 150% of the CZH 283, 176 Czech annual average salary. Blue Cards will be valid for up to two years, but can be further extended. Foreign workers already in the Czech Republic can also apply, provided that they satisfy the same criteria. These new permits do not replace the Green Cards introduced in 2009 which simplify the hiring of workers without professional qualifications from certain specified countries.

Employers need to be aware that long-term residency visas are now only being issued for six months, as opposed to twelve previously. Furthermore, applicants must apply for such visas in person at the Czech Embassy or Consulate in their home country or a country of their long-term stay and will be required to demonstrate that they have already obtained accommodation in the Czech Republic, for example by providing a written declaration from the intended landlord, with its notarized signature attached to such document.

One of the most controversial changes is the new requirement for Czech employers to provide health insurance for any employees from third countries. The cover must extend to injuries suffered whilst under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances and should cover claims up to €60,000, double the previous minimum. There is, however, one fairly major sticking point - no Czech insurance companies currently offer insurance on this basis. The authorities there are apparently aware of this issue, as one might hope in the circumstances, and are “in discussion” with the relevant insurance providers.

Czech Republic employers should ensure that any foreign workers have the correct permits in place as the penalties for breaching the new immigration rules have also been stiffened. Any employer found to be employing an illegal worker will, for example, have to bear any deportation costs.

These new immigration rules have been criticised as too burdensome for employers, especially the duty to provide unavailable insurance cover! Discussions are ongoing as to how they should apply to foreign managers and other highly skilled workers.