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Czech Republic to pay unemployed foreigners to go home

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will offer a free plane ticket and 500 euros ($649) to foreign workers who voluntarily agree to return home after losing their jobs in the economic downturn, the government said on Monday.

The sweeteners are among measures to cope with security risks stemming from rising unemployment among foreign workers in the EU member country, Interior Minister Ivan Langer said.

In the past years, the fast-growing Czech economy, led by the car industry, lured cheap labor mainly from Ukraine, Slovakia, Vietnam, Mongolia and Moldova.

Langer said many unemployed foreigners lacked cash to pay for a ticket home, as they had been saving to pay excessive fees or bribes -- up to $12,000 -- to agencies that secured them jobs in the Czech Republic.

“Many of these people could unfortunately end up with a difficult financial problem and struggle for a living. Then there is a threat that they will end up in a grey zone and become a part of criminal networks,” Langer said.

Around 290,000 foreign workers were registered in the country as of November last year, up 51,000 year-on-year, the Interior Ministry said. That represented about six percent of the workforce.

Langer said he expected around 12,000 foreign workers to lose their jobs in the first quarter this year. The work permits of some 68,000 would expire during the first half of 2009.

He added the country would spend 60.7 million crowns ($2.83 million) to repatriate an initial 2,000 foreigners in the next eight months.

Data showed on Monday Czech unemployment jumped to a 21-month high of 6.8 percent in January from 6.0 percent the previous month, confirming the impact of the global financial crisis on the labor marker.

Reporting by Jan Korselt, editing by Mark Trevelyan