There are currently nearly 2.8 million ethnic Slovaks (referred to as "foreign Slovaks") living all around the world. The Act on Slovaks Living Abroad was adopted in 2005. It regulates the status of a foreign Slovak, his or her rights and obligations within the territory of the Slovak Republic, as well as the procedure for recognising the status of a foreign Slovak and the purview of central bodies of state administration in relation to foreign Slovaks. A foreign Slovak is a person who is not a national of the Slovak Republic, but has Slovak nationality or Slovak ethnic origin and awareness of Slovak language and culture. Awareness of Slovak language and culture means at least a passive knowledge of the Slovak language, together with a basic knowledge of Slovak culture or active demonstrations of affiliation with the Slovak ethnic community. The number of Slovaks in each country can only be estimated, so estimated populations may vary considerably according to the source of the information.
Legal status as an ethnic minority is only recognised for those Slovaks who live in Central or Southeastern Europe. Most of these minority communities have deep cultural traditions, their own ethnic intelligentsia, and a rich social system. Slovaks living in Western Europe and overseas do not have the legal status of a minority under the laws of those countries.
The Slovaks living abroad can be divided into two categories:
- the Slovaks who found themselves outside the borders of Slovakia due to political changes, and their descendants. The largest of these events were the dissolution of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1918, and the cession of the Sub-Carpathian Ukraine to the Soviet Union in 1945. In those events, a great number of ethnic Slovaks (original inhabitants, or people who settled there after the end of the Ottoman wars) found themselves within the borders of present-day Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. Especially in Hungary, the Slovaks were subjected to rigorous assimilation. As a result, although there are an estimated 110,000 ethnic Slovaks in Hungary (from a population of several hundred thousand at the end of World War I), a Hungarian statistic from 1990 reports a population of only 10,450 Slovaks.
- the Slovaks who migrated abroad, in particular during the second half of the 19th century (from Hungary), after World War I (from Czechoslovakia) and after World War II, especially after the year 1948, but also migrants from the following decades, continuing to the present day.
The largest community of ethnic Slovaks abroad is found in the United States, with an estimated population of 1,200,000 (statistical data from the year 1990 is 1,882,915). The estimated population in Canada is 100,000 (statistical data from the year 1991 is 29,350 – the difference is a result of the differing census techniques used in the USA and in Canada). The estimated number of Slovaks living in South America is 50,000, with the largest populations in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. There are an estimated 12,000 Slovaks in Australia and New Zealand, 25,000 in Germany, 25,000 in Austria, 13,000 in France, and 90,000 in the United Kingdom. There are also hundreds of Slovaks living in other countries.
In many foreign countries, the original generation of immigrants still speaks Slovak (Argentina and other countries of South America, Australia and Switzerland), while their descendants communicate in the local language of the respective country. In the United States, Slovak is also spoken by subsequent generations, but it is based on Slovak dialects rather than standard Slovak. Slovak language level depends greatly on the availability of an education in this minority language.
For example, in Romania (unlike Hungary, Poland, and other countries) Slovak-language schools have had a positive effect on the revival of the Slovak language. Visits by descendants of emigrants to the Summer School of Slovak Language and Culture in Bratislava, which has been organising courses for foreign applicants for 40 years, have also played a positive role in maintaining Slovak language and culture abroad.
In the Czech Republic, the decrease in the number of Slovak children is due to the fact that of 52,000 mixed marriages living in Czech territory, up to 95.5% have Czech nationality, and only 4.2% have Slovak nationality.
Internet portals for Slovaks who live abroad
- www.uszz.sk - Office for Slovaks who live abroad
- www.slovenskecentrum.sk - Portal for Slovaks in Great Britain
- slovenskamigracia.sk - Civic association Migrácia SK (Migration SK)
- www.luno.hu - Ľudové noviny (Popular Gazette) - Weekly newspaper for Slovaks who live in Hungary
- www.exil.sk - Portal for Slovaks who live abroad
- www.vojvodina.sk - Slovaks in Vojvodina