Lower house tightens foreigners' law ahead of Schengen entry

Photo: Commission européenne

The lower house of parliament this week approved an amendment to the foreigners' law tightening the rules under which foreigners can apply for permanent residence or asylum in the Czech Republic. The move comes ahead of the country's planned entry to the Schengen border-free zone in December of this year.

Interior Minister Ivan Langer, photo: CTK
One of the easiest ways to obtain permanent residence in the Czech Republic is to enter into a feigned marriage. Currently any foreign national who marries a Czech can apply for permanent residence immediately. Under the new law, which has yet to be approved by the Senate and the president, non-EU foreigners who marry Czech citizens will have to wait two years before being able to apply for permanent residence. Interior Minister Ivan Langer explains why this is being done:

"We have registered a marked increase in feigned marriages in the past and we know that a lot of this still goes on. With this amendment we are following the current European trend. And we are still more lenient than most - we have set a two year probation period, foreigners in Germany have to wait five years."

Photo: European Commission
The opposition parties supported the proposed amendment in the hope that a longer probation period will put people off feigned marriages. However not everyone approves. Marie Jelinkova of the Prague-based Multicultural Centre says the amendment will hurt many innocent couples:

"This amendment is discriminatory and the reason why is obvious - the amendment suspects every mixed marriage of being feigned and it treats them accordingly. This will make the couples' daily life much harder than it used to be or now is. The Interior Ministry claims that there has been a significant increase in the number of fake mixed marriages but they do not have any statistics or facts to support this claim."

The new amendment will concern an average 4,000 couples a year - and the two year probation period will prove costly - especially if they have a child within that period. They would have to pay for medical care and would receive no social benefits. Opponents of the new legislation say these tough measures are unnecessary since the problem with fake marriages does not lie in the legal system but in the poor performance of the foreign police. Marie Jelinkova again:

"Nowadays one of the tasks of the foreign police is to conduct checks of mixed marriages. When a Czech citizen marries a foreigner they get interviewed separately and asked questions about their private life. If the foreign police suspect that the marriage might be feigned they can come to visit them and interview them again separately. They can see how they live, what they have in common and so on. So there are ways of fighting feigned marriages and if the police say that the number of feigned marriages has increased it means they have not done their job properly."

Some deputies and senators agree with this argument but in view of the European trend and the country's imminent entry into the Schengen zone it is highly likely that the amendment to the foreigners' law will enter the statute books. If it does, foreigners will find some tough hurdles on the way to acquiring permanent residence - among others an exam in the Czech language.