Vietnamese immigration to the Czech Republic
The first wave of Vietnamese came to the Czech Republic in 1956. The Czechoslovak government sheltered them from a country destroyed by war and provided them the possibility for education, study, and employment.
On the other side, the Czechoslovak government invested in the education of Vietnamese, who later became a cheap, motivated, and effective labor force. Nonetheless, the Vietnamese assimilation was slow because they lived in separated Vietnamese communities.
In 1973, the Vietnamese government asked for permission to send another 10 - 12 000 Vietnamese to the Czech Republic on professional studies. The Czechoslovak government had to enable their accommodation and classrooms, which required large investments and organization.
In the next ten years, even 30 000 Vietnamese immigrated to the Czech Republic! Their number decreased during the second half of the 80s. The Vietnamese were spread all around the Czech Republic, but the largest number found their home in the Czech capital (around 4 000 people).
Vietnamese workers in the Czech Republic
Vietnamese workers could stay and work in the Czech Republic under certain conditions. On his arrival, a Vietnamese citizen got winter clothes worth 2 400 Czechoslovak crowns and the "scholarship" of 900 Czechoslovak crowns.
Straight from the airport, they would go to the company's houses or student dormitories, where they would learn the Czech language and get familiar with the business surroundings for three months. A Vietnamese worker would get 1 000 Czechoslovak crowns for three months of work.
Only married Vietnamese were allowed to travel back home during their holidays. The company paid their travel expenses, but a worker didn't get a salary during the allowed two months of his absence. Every four years, a Vietnamese worker could take home Czechoslovak goods in the value of 50% of his earnings.
Vietnamese students in the Czech Republic
Vietnam embassy determined rules for students. Successful students who finished college and got their degree could stay in the country for another 6 months. The embassy also helped them with getting their work visas later on.
Students who had lower grades were constantly under the threat of getting sent back home to Vietnam. This is where the key to Vietnamese hard work and motivation laid.
There are some interesting rules that Vietnamese students had to obey. They couldn't go out alone but in groups of at least 3 people. They were not allowed to be alone with the person of the opposite sex. If a Vietnamese boy and a girl would meet inside the student dormitory, it had to be under the surveillance of a third person.
In 1982, the government allowed Vietnamese students to date, but on condition that a girl cannot get pregnant. If a Vietnamese girl got pregnant, she would immediately be deported back to Vietnam.
Male Vietnamese students shouldn't have long hair, they were not allowed to wear jeans, denim shirts or any other western clothes. But the Communist government of Czechoslovakia wasn't favorable toward Czechs wearing western clothes either.
The Vietnamese - economic immigrants
Starting from the second half of the 80s, both Czechs and Vietnamese began to take advantage of the situation. The Czechs were giving Vietnamese workers less desirable work positions, such as assembly line work, for example. The Vietnamese used their earnings to bribe Czech officers and send home Czech products (mopeds, bicycles, sewing machines).
The Vietnamese became economic immigrants and they stayed that way until today. After they've finished their studies or professional practices, they looked for a way to stay in the Czech Republic or Europe. There were three possibilities:
1) to emigrate to neighboring countries, such as Germany
2) to open an Ltd. company together with a Czech citizen or
3) to open their own business that would allow them to get permanent residency in the Czech Republic
The majority of Vietnamese opted for the third option. They've opened small stores with various products: bread, milk, groceries, hygiene items, cigarettes, alcohol, fashion accessories, decorations or Asian products. Their working hours are long, some of the Vietnamese shops are even open 24 hours, and their whole family is either working or just helping in the store.
After 1989, a new wave of Vietnamese immigrants came to the Czech Republic. A Vietnamese minority from Germany, Slovakia, Poland or Hungary moved to the Czech Republic. The Vietnamese who already assimilated in the Czech Republic invited their whole families, which were left in Vietnam, to join them.
The Vietnamese that live in the Czech Republic came mostly from poor Vietnamese villages in North Vietnam in search of an economic profit.
With the money that they earn in the Czech Republic, they want to feed their families, secure their children's future and provide a better life for their families in Vietnam. This is why they sacrifice their free time working in shops or restaurants from dusk till dawn (or as the Czechs would say, od nevidím do nevidím).
While they stand behind the counter, they pass their time watching videos on their phones or tablets. They usually watch Vietnamese soap-operas, hang out with their children (who also watch videos or learn English on tablets) or skype with other members of their family.
Once I went to a Vietnamese store and, while I was paying, a vendor was skyping with his wife. You could see bean cans, ice-coffees, and cigarette boxes on the shelves behind her. She was at work, as well! She looked familiar to me – it was a lady who works in a shop where my boyfriend used to live. 😀
Young Vietnamese in the Czech Republic
Nowadays, young Vietnamese are integrated into Czech society: they speak Czech fluently, go to Czech schools and universities, and they have many Czech friends. However, during and after their education, they help their parents in the shops or Vietnamese restaurants.
I sometimes watch funny videos made by three nice Vietnamese that live in the Czech Republic. They have their Youtube channel and they make humorous videos about the Vietnamese stereotypes, the difference between Czechs and Vietnamese, etc.
SAPA - the largest Vietnamese community in Prague
Older Vietnamese are less interested in assimilation in the Czech society and they make their own communities, with Vietnamese schools, banks, exchange shops, wedding halls, dance schools, tourist agencies, and after all, shops and restaurants. In their shops, they sell exotic Asian fruit and vegetables, seafood, woks, frying pans, pots, and ceramics. Shortly, they sell everything that a Czech citizen cannot get in ordinary Czech shops.
The best known Vietnamese community in Prague is SAPA (Libušská 126, Libuš, Prague 4). It's an area of Vietnamese shops, street food, banks, tourist agencies, schools, etc. We like to go there once a year to buy Asian products or cheap home decorations. We always try some of the Vietnamese street food or Vietnamese coffee from sweet Vietnamese grannies. 🙂