Immigration activists protest against degrading conditions for non-EU work applicants

Foto: ČTK

There is nothing that foreigners in the Czech Republic dread more than a trip to the foreign police. The horror stories are endless – long lines, no English, unpleasant officials and a general lack of efficiency. On Thursday morning an NGO in support of the rights of migrants organized a protest event outside one of Prague’s foreign police offices to highlight the degrading conditions foreign nationals are subjected to in order to be able to live and work in the Czech Republic.

Photo: CTK
Long before the crack of dawn a long cue of applicants started forming outside a foreign police office in Prague 4. By 6:30 am over one hundred people stood in line, passports clasped in hand, muffled against the cold. Not an unusual sight, only this morning was different – the dreary mood was highlighted by the equally dreary sound of a live band and volunteers from the NGO for the Rights of Migrants handed out hot tea and coffee. Human rights lawyer Pavel Čižinský, who organized the protest, said little had changed for the better in the past 20 years and the lack of job opportunities was making foreign workers even less welcome.

“The state is sending out a clear message to foreign workers saying that they are no longer welcome. That we are undergoing a crisis and they should go back where they came from. That is inhumane, unwise and irrational. Many of these people have spent large sums to come here, they want to stay and, when things look up, we will need them – not to mention the fact that this will only push them into illegality and the control, detention and expulsion of illegal workers cost us money.”

Illustrative photo: Czech Television
There are big changes in store as of January 1, some of which may make life even harder for foreign workers. In line with an amendment to the law, non-EU foreigners will be required to have sufficient health insurance, while their residency permits will have to have biometric information, such as fingerprints. Employers will bear full responsibility for employing illegal foreign workers –and will have to pay for their expulsion. But the biggest change of all is that the foreign police as such is to be scrapped and the agenda will go to the Czech Interior Ministry.

Pavel Čižinský says that, while he is not against the agenda changing hands, he fears many complications.

“The aim of this re-organization was to save money and the new law will require more work rather than less. In view of the need to collect biometric data, foreigners will have to make three separate trips to the foreign police and more clerks will be needed to do the job. Now the foreign police is present in every region, but the ministry may have fewer offices and we fear things could get much worse.”

Pavel Čižinský
The ministry counters that it is well-prepared to take on the new role and that it can guarantee improved conditions simply by organizing its work more efficiently. Unlike the foreign police, its clerks will reportedly be doing a lot more work over the Internet. Applicants will be able to book their visits and will know in advance precisely what they are expected to bring with them. Scenes where hundreds of people jostled to hand their passports to a police officer who sauntered out of the foreign office building should become a thing of the past – as should the practice of paying a suspect-looking individual for a place at the head of the cue. All this sounds too good to be true to the people who have had to hire interpreters and spend a half-day out in the cold waiting to get their passport stamped, but most of them say will believe it when they see it.