Fewer residency applicants as foreigners fear language exams

The number of foreigners moving to the Czech Republic has been steadily on the rise for years. The number of people applying for permanent residence here has declined over the last year however, and one of the main reasons for that decline it seems are the Czech language exams imposed at the end of 2008 for residence applicants from non-EU countries.

Citing a report from the Ministry of the Interior, the daily Právo reports that 20% of non-EU citizens who took the new mandatory Czech language proficiency tests failed them, and were thus denied permanent residence in the Czech Republic. That amounts to about a thousand people since the tests were introduced in October of 2008, but it would seem there are many more people who are no longer bothering to seek permanent residence out of concern they will fail the tests. According to Šárka Svobodová of the Education Ministry, that was an unintended side effect of the exams.

Illustrative photo: Czech Television
“Well I cannot say that that was the intention of the exam at all. The aim was to solve the problem of integrating the foreigners, not to prevent them from residing here. These tests were introduced to help integrate foreigners coming to the Czech Republic and to the everyday life here, to be able to take care of themselves, attend events that are arranged for them, and to be able to live here.”

Apparently Mongolians followed by Moldavians and Vietnamese have had the most trouble passing the tests, despite the fact that Russian is a common second language in the first two of those countries, and speakers of other Slavic languages have an obvious advantage. Thanks to similarities with Czech, Byelorussians and Ukrainians have had the highest success rate on the test. Ms Svobodová says that despite the general concern, the tests are not particularly challenging.

“The exam is really designed to help foreigners to be able to cope with basic everyday situations and it is not difficult at all, it is level A1, which really should be the basic level of foreigners who live in the Czech Republic and seek a job here.”

So why the fear? The daily Právo reports rather widespread cheating and attempts at bribery. Instructors giving the tests have been firmly warned against accepting the bounteous gifts they are offered. Meanwhile, in larger cities, companies have apparently been found that are providing “look-alikes” with stronger grasps of Czech to take the exams for the applicants using their ID cards. Markéta Slezáková of the Centre for the Integration of Foreigners helps compose the exam itself, and says one of the main problems may be the form rather than the content.

“It could be connected to the fact that they are not familiar with the format of the tests: they don’t know how to fill them in, or they are not familiar with the types of exercises that are in tests. So if they don’t know how to fill it in, then it takes them more time to study it during the test, and then they can’t pass it because they don’t have enough time.”

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
Corruption though, or rather the money spent on combating it, could jeopardise the entire system. In 55 of the schools that offer certification in Czech for foreigners the two ministries involved, education and the interior, are planning to provide anticorruption training for teachers, but the Ministry of Finance is not going to give them the funding for it. For now, that poses a threat to the preparatory services that the ministries currently offer, such as a website and free hotline to advise applicants, and may ultimately lower the standard of the tests even more.