Sofia Smith is a British-born chef of Irish-Malaysian heritage, who has been living in Prague since the late nineties. She started her career at the British Council and has since become one of the most respected experts on Asian cuisine in the Czech Republic. She is currently Executive Chef of Cafe Buddha in Prague’s Vinohrady district. That’s where I caught up with her to discuss her life in the Czech capital. I started by asking what made her leave the IT sector and pursue cooking professionally.
Since June 2016, when the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, the number of British nationals living and working in the Czech Republic has been steadily growing. According to data released by the Czech Labour Office and the Ministry of Interior, the number of British employees in the Czech Republic has risen by more than a third. There has also been a 55 percent increase in the number of British nationals who filed for permanent residence in this country.
Foreigners from non-EU states are obliged to undergo a Czech language exam to secure permanent residency in the country. The government is currently preparing legislation to make the tests harder as well as introduce stricter checks on potential cheaters, arguing that the Czech Republic currently has some of the lowest language requirements in Europe.
The refugee support initiative Češi pomáhaji (Czechs help) has announced it has a list of around 200 Czech families who say they are willing to accept refugees currently stationed in Greek camps. At a press conference on Thursday they called on the Czech government to create a special interdepartmental group which would put the wheels in motion. However, the government says that its conditions have not yet been met by the Greek authorities.
More than 60,000 foreign students studied at Czech universities last year – a record high. Most full-time diploma students are from neighbouring Slovakia, followed by ex-Soviet states such as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, with interest from India and China steadily rising. Most exchange students, coming for just a semester, are from the United States.
Faced by an acute labour shortage, the Czech government is looking to attract more foreign workers and streamline the processing of issuing work permits. In recent years, the country has in particular turned to Ukraine to help fill the gap. The government wants to do the same for workers from EU hopefuls such as Montenegro, Moldova and Serbia, as well as India and other Asian countries.
An amendment to the law on foreigners, in effect as of the beginning of August, has brought a series of changes concerning mainly foreigners from non-EU countries. Among other things, it introduces compulsory integration courses and quotas for economic migration. But, according to migration experts, the law is excessively restrictive.