Non-EU foreigners could have a harder time getting residence permits in the Czech Republic

Foreign nationals from outside the EU seeking to obtain permanent residence in the Czech Republic need to arm themselves with patience - lots of paperwork, long queues at the foreign police and a five-year wait before they can obtain the Czech equivalent of the Green Card. There are, of course, ways of getting round these hurdles such as sham marriages and certificates of fatherhood. However the interior ministry has now put its foot down and a newly proposed amendment to the foreigners' law - aimed at curbing these practices - could make life more difficult for all.

Last year around four and a half thousand Czechs married a foreign national. According to the Interior Ministry approximately a thousand of those marriages were sham marriages - money traded for a residence permit. Young Romany women in north Bohemia and Moravia are frequently approached by foreign nationals from Vietnam, China or Ukraine with offers of 20 thousand crowns or around 950 US dollars if they agree to go through a sham marriage. The lure of easy money has got many of them into trouble. Once her new husband pockets his residence permit and takes off, the wife has problems getting social support, benefits or a loan. Some have got pregnant with their boyfriends and have had problems giving their child a name other than their husband's. In many cases foreigners who "buy" a residence permit in this manner do not have a clean criminal record. The complications are endless.

The Interior Ministry has now proposed an amendment to the law that would make this transaction less lucrative for all. Even if they marry a Czech or father a Czech child, foreigners would have to wait two years to acquire permanent residence in the Czech Republic. Interior Ministry Spokeswoman Jana Malikova says that abuse of the system has become so widespread it is time to take action:

"This will help us to ascertain that a given couple have entered into a proper marriage and that it is not just a means of acquiring a residence permit quickly and easily. We even considered a five year waiting period and DNA tests but in the end we settled for a two year period and no tests. There is now so much abuse of the system - both as concerns sham marriages and fatherhood certificates - that we had to take action. Besides in other EU states it is perfectly normal for there to be some waiting period for a residence permit."

But even for those who act above board there may be another complication - any foreigner who is not from the EU applying for permanent residence would in future have to pass a fairly difficult Czech language test. The proposed legislation has just gone through its first reading in the lower house -which means that it has a long way to go yet and is sure to meet lots of hurdles along the way. Already nine non-government organizations have criticized it. Eva Hola from the Organization for Aid to Refugees says that it tars all foreigners with the same brush and will make life difficult for those who have not abused the system in any way.

Photo: European Commission
"If this bill gets approved then any foreigner married to a Czech would have a problem getting a job, they would not be eligible for social support or health insurance, they would not be able to take out loans or apply for a mortgage -in the first two years of their marriage. It would affect all foreigners - not just those who have entered into sham marriages. We think that this is just not good enough and it seems to us that this amendment would primarily make life easier for the foreign police and strengthen their power over both foreigners and their Czech partners."

The proposed amendment would also make life difficult for asylum seekers who would be forced to spend 6 months in a holding facility at Prague's international airport. Critics say this is simply too harsh and remind the authorities that just 20 years ago many Czechs were themselves asylum seekers in different parts of the world.