Strict medical checks are probably awaiting guest workers arriving in the Czech Republic from non-EU countries. A draft amendment to the recently approved green card programme is designed to radically reduce the increasing risk of foreigners spreading tuberculosis, hepatitis, AIDS, syphilis, whooping cough and other dangerous infections.
With the growing number of guest workers also grows the number of those who arrive with dangerous diseases. Doctors have long warned that the country has no way to prevent this from happening.
A Pardubice-based plant belonging to the electronics giant Foxconn had 13 incidents of TB this summer, mainly among workers from Mongolia and Vietnam. Some companies are trying to protect themselves by sending non-EU staff to have their lungs x-rayed, but that is against Czech radiation safety laws.
The amendment to the regulations for green card approvals, drafted by MP Boris Šťastný (ODS), vice-chairman of the lower house health care committee, would set up a network of facilities accredited by the Health Ministry to check green card applicants and confirm that they do not suffer from any of the diseases listed.
The Czech Republic will start issuing green cards to guest workers from non-EU countries from January 2009. The green cards, combining a work and residency permit, are designed to help Czech firm hire foreigners for specific jobs unwanted by EU citizens.
“If my proposal passes through parliament without any delays, medical checks may be included as another mandatory requirement for green card approval around the middle of next year,” says Šťastný.
But Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas thinks this solution is not necessary. “What will we do with the people if they are already here? We could effectively protect ourselves from the spread of dangerous diseases even now, by suspending green cards for a specific country deemed as risky,” says the minister.
The Health Ministry insists the amendment would represent an important improvement. “It would secure better protection of our citizens’ health,” says Michael Vít, the country’s chief public health officer.
The bill is expected to win support from legislators of most political parties. Some doctors are enthusiastic too. “It is a step in the right direction,” says Jan Kos, director of a sanatorium for respiratory diseases in Janov and chair of the Czech Pulmonological Society.
So what will we do with foreigners diagnosed with one of the diseases, as Nečas says? “From a medical point of view we have to cure them. But MP Šťastný’s proposal would prevent the ill worker from spreading the disease further around his factory,” says Jana Vyskočilová, head of the lung ward at the Teaching Hospital in Plzeň.
“It is then up to immigration police to immediately deport such a person,” says Vít. But immigration police spokeswoman Kateřina Rendlová points out that the existing laws do not recognise a disease as a reason for deportation. “If such a law were adopted, we would obviously act accordingly,” she says.
The number of Czech patients diagnosed with TB dropped to 871 last year, the lowest figure in history, but the number of foreigners with TB grew to 153.