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In feudal times, a person needed a passport whether traveling inside or outside of the Austrian monarchy. A passport could be issued either by the lord of an estate for villagers or the town magistrate for burghers. Such passports were valid for travel within the Crown land of residence (e.g. Bohemia). If traveling to other Crown lands of the empire, a clause from the regional office was required. In order to travel abroad or to lands without conscription control (e.g. Hungary, Veneto), a special passport issued by the Gubernium had to be procured. The application for these passports could be submitted through the lord of the estate or the town magistrate where the reason for travel was examined and any outstanding financial, legal, or military obligations were identified. If the applicant had military duties, the application was usually rejected or a high bond was required (sometimes 300 gold). Travelers’ documents were inspected not only at the borders, but also within the Crown land.

In 1857, shortly after the downfall of feudalism, the situation was relaxed and passports were no longer required when traveling within the Austrian empire. Passport authority was relegated to the district offices (okresní hejtmanství) and police directorates. An application for a passport was usually approved; only liability for military service or a legal prosecution could be a reason for rejection. In 1859, Austria joined the German convention that allowed travel to German states – one only needed an identity card (Passcarte). In 1865, passport control on the borders of the monarchy was abandoned, so the necessity of a passport was only theoretical. Only for travels to Russia and Turkey was a valid passport essential. Revisions in the Austrian constitution in December 1867 guaranteed the right for its citizens to emigrate. It was declared that any identity certificate was sufficient when traveling within the Austrian Empire and Germany.

In 1914, passport control was re-established on the borders and persons with military obligations were forbidden to leave the empire. During the war, the situation got even more strict. After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, a valid passport was required when traveling outside the borders. 

Illegal emigration was quite common from 1859 till 1914, since any identification papers were sufficient to travel through Germany and board a ship. Many men left the country without passports in order to avoid military service. Others left without permission due to pending legal or financial obligations. Scores of other emigrants traveled lacking the benefit of a passport simply to avoid the cost (both in time & money) and the bureaucratic morass of a formal passport application.

While religious and political persecution were the primary motivations to emigrate from the Czech lands in the 17th & 18th centuries, the main reasons for the mass emigration of Czechs during the 19th century and the beginning of 20th were social and economic. People were desperate to leave areas with scarce job opportunities, poor agricultural conditions, missing public transport (e.g. Southern and Western Bohemia or Northern and Eastern Moravia), and overpopulation (central & eastern Bohemia). In the first half of the 19th century, the Habsburg authorities tried to steer the economic migration, especially towards the southern part of the empire where, after the Austrian-Turkish wars, there still remained large tracts of untamed land. Many peasants left Bohemia and Moravia in the 1820s and 1830s to settle in the borderlands of Croatia & Slavonia and the Banat region in Lower Hungary. At the end of the 19th century, many craftsmen and officers left to Galicia, Bukovina, Hungary, the Austrian seaboard (Triest, Pula) and Dalmatia. In the 1860s, several thousand Czechs were lured with the promise of a land allowance to the Russian regions of Volhynia, Crimea and North Caucasus, where serfdom had recently been abolished. Inhabitants of South Bohemia and Moravia were drawn to Vienna, where craftsmen, laborers, maids, and clerks were always in demand.

The mass overseas emigration of Czechs, primarily to the USA, began in the second half of the 19th century. The first wave of Czech emigrants included “The 48-ers” who were fleeing persecution after the failed revolutions of 1848 in Europe. A second, larger wave began after the Austrian government passed a law in 1867 allowing legal emigration out of the empire. The Homestead Act of 1862 in the United States, offering free land to settlers, coupled with the end of the U.S. Civil War, helped spark the age of mass migration. During the initial phase, most emigrants were peasants who had no prospects of acquiring land in their ancestral homeland and who generally aspired to earn a living by farming in their new home. Later emigrants were increasingly urban craftsmen and laborers hoping for better compensation in the burgeoning economy of the United States. Emigrants often possessed some assets in the form of their share of an inheritance. This share was usually sufficient to cover the costs of transportation from Europe to America with enough left over for beginning anew in North America. Although even the poorest individuals could, of course, leave their native towns or villages, they were limited by their very poverty from making the voyage to the New World. They could not even efford the expense of transportation to the west European ports of embarkation – first Amsterdam, Antwerp, or Liverpool, later chiefly Bremen and Hamburg.

Many people left the country after the Nazi occupation in 1939: primarily Jewish citizens and people with strong political convictions who were at risk of being taken to the concentration camps. The biggest movement of the Czech population occurred at the end of World War II – during 1945 & 1946 around 2,600,000 Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia, especially to Germany and Austria. Almost 200,000 Czechs emigrated illegally during the 40 years of communist rule between 1948 and 1989.  

Czechs in the U.S.A. Czechs in Europe




Category: Emigration

For traveling outside the Austrian monarchy, one needed a valid passport. An applicant for a passport had to have a clean legal record, not have any military obligations,