The Role of the “Migration Industry” in Migration for the Sake of Education

Kristina had always dreamt of studying abroad but had not known how and where to go from Russia. Once she saw an invitation for a conference about study in the Czech Republic organized by a Czech language school. The specific school recruited potential interested students. Paying for the language course, whose price was around 4,000 Euro, was enough to fulfil the dream. Moreover, Kristina had to pay for full academic year accommodation in order to get the visa and so the price rose to 6,000 Euro.

Studying abroad is a present day trend, in the last decade the student migration increased rapidly and became one of the main forms of international mobility. Although the Czech Republic was lagging behind on the foreign education market, the number of foreign students has almost tripled in the last ten years. What role does the “migration industry“ play in that and what institutions contribute to the student migration in the Czech Republic?

It is not a secret that migration is a big business. According to British geographers John Salt and Jeremy Stein, international migration is “heterogeneous international trade with a large budget that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and is driven by groups of individuals and institutions, each of these interested in the trade development”.

This gives rise to a number of intermediary institutions that facilitate, support and encourage mobility of the people. This phenomenon was labelled as the “migration industry“ in the literature. Stakeholders in the “migration industry“ have a strong interest in the persistence of international migration and play an important role in convincing potential migrants of the benefits of migration. “Personnel and travel agencies, transport operators, legal and consulting firms and many others” belong to these institutions.

In case of education-related migration, these institutions involve particularly agencies offering assistance in acquiring education, language teaching, processing student visas, providing accommodation and other services for students.

Situation in the Czech Republic

According to the Czech Statistical Office in the academic year of 2011/2012 almost 39,000 foreign students studied at universities in the Czech Republic. Most represented were students from Slovakia (almost 25,000), then with a considerably smaller presence of students from Russia (2,874), Ukraine (1,647) and Kazakhstan (962)[1]. Compared to the academic year of 2003/2004 the number of foreign students has almost tripled. Ten years ago 13,136 foreigners studied at universities in the Czech Republic.

The Interest of students from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan in higher education undertaken in the Czech Republic is great. A European degree from both public and private universities enjoys immense prestige. However, in order to pass the admission exam in Czech, they mostly have to attend a preparatory language course in the Czech Republic.

Many agencies offer language courses and try to lure the students on the pretext of receiving a free education after having completed these courses, of Slavic cultural and linguistic closeness and in addition to that they are selling a dream of a better life.

Advertisement of one of the agencies offers an example: “Do you want to acquire secondary or higher education in Europe and live in a prosperous and developed country? The Czech Republic is a modern, dynamic and developing state in the heart of Europe.”

After Arrival in the Czech Republic

The “migration industry“ plays a significant role not only in luring people abroad, but also in persuading them to stay. Until the student gets his/her bearings in the new environment or while dealing with first visa-extension problems, he/she is a potential client of businesses assisting to obtain the necessary documents for the Foreign Police Department.

For instance, before the possibility of making an appointment by phone, students had often used the “queuing” service during the procedure to extend visa.

Alena: “After I had arrived in the Czech Republic (in 2009) I heard many stories from other students about endless queues at the Foreign Police Department about people standing there all night long so as to ever get to the counter. It was my first visa extension attempt and therefore I was very nervous. I turned to a company which revised that all my documents were complete and one of the employees stood in the queue for me. I paid 2,000 CZK for their services.”

In order to extend the visa, a student has to prove that he/she has sufficient financial resources for the whole year. Some of the students, however, have parents providing the financial support monthly, and in that case students have to pay the agency again for the account statement of the required amount.

Svetlana: “The man and I met in front of the bank. He gave me 80,000 CZK cash that I deposited in my account and immediately asked for the account statement. Then I gave him the money back and paid 1,500 CZK.

So every tightening of the visa process costs the students a lot, but for the agencies it is a further opportunity how to profit from the migrants.

Prices are different at every agency. Here you find an example of a price list of one of the agencies offering services to migrants:

Residence registration per year/accommodation confirmation: 2,799 CZK

Account statement: 1,999 CZK

Assistance/visa extension: 999 CZK

Criminal records statement: 1,499 CZK

[1] Data from the Czech Statistical Office 2011

Author: Liudmila

The article is part of the Migration to the Centre project funded by the EU’s program “Europe for Citizens,” the Visegrad Fund, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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