Foreigners to get permanent residence after five years

The Senate on Thursday approved a bill under which foreigners living and working in the Czech Republic could be granted permanent residence after five years, as opposed to the present ten. This bill concerns some 38,000 foreigners living in the country and is seen as a fundamental breakthrough.

Renewing one's temporary residence papers in the Czech Republic is often described as a nightmare by people who undergo it year after year. The bureaucracy involved and the time it takes to get this matter settled, especially for foreigners from non-EU member states, is extremely daunting. Now things are looking up. The changes approved in line with EU legislation will make foreigners' lives here much easier. Erik Best is an American journalist who has lived in the country for many years:

"I think it certainly improves the situation for those who intend to stay here and have been here for a while and have had to go down to the foreign police station every year and stand in line and get a different tale from each officer each time - that is extremely positive. It also puts you in a different category in terms of taxation and your insurance situation. Of course, in some small ways, there are some inconveniences. You need to be aware of your new obligations because all of a sudden you are treated - for the purposes of taxes - just as a Czech is, and that of course brings certain obligations."

The bill has yet to be signed by President Klaus but that is regarded as a mere formality. In reality its implementation has already began in order to bring the Czech Republic in line with EU norms and requirements as quickly as possible.

The Interior Ministry says the new law will simplify and accelerate the process of granting both temporary and permanent residence, as well as the process of granting visas for more than 90 days. It has been described as a fundamental breakthrough in the country's migration laws and appears to be advantageous for everyone involved. But Eric Best warns that the new law does have its dangers and could back-fire if the Czech Republic does not adopt a clear-cut immigration policy:

"To look at it objectively I would have to question whether the Czechs should not decide on some kind of long-term immigration policy before taking such an important step because there will be many, many people who will suddenly qualify for permanent residence and subsequently be in line to apply for citizenship and they will in a sense be able to do this by default, because the Czechs have never really sat down and decided on an immigration policy. Now, we can say that "the more foreigners the better" and all that, but with the problems that we see in other parts of the world, some of the situations with multiculturalism and racial violence and religious strife it probably would be a good thing for the Czechs to decide on a firm immigration policy."