Prior to the revolution, foreigners were quite rare in this country. But since 1989, immigration has risen significantly. That increase led to the formation of the Committee for the Integration of Foreigners in 2000. It aims to create long term legislation and practical measures for the integration of foreigners. The committee recently had a special survey conducted - and one thing is clear- the bureaucratic procedures involving work and residency permits are a major obstacle for long term residents.
Long term foreign residents now make up 2.3% of the population. Many of them complain that renewing their work and residency permits is a bureaucratic nightmare. Artyom Yefimov, a graphic designer from Russia, has been living in the Czech Republic for the past five years. He has to renew his visa at the Foreign Police Office every twelve months. His experiences are far from unusual:
"First of all I have to wait for several hours in a long line. Then I have to fight just to get in, just to give my papers to the officer. I have to make two or three visits to the office before I get my visa. Sometimes people feel like cattle or even worse."
I asked Mr.Jefimov what he thought could be done to improve the situation:
"I think they should come up with a way to make more order in this process, to let communicate with them more easily."
What's so hard about communicating with the foreign police?
"I think they don't have any interest in being friendly. I quite understand that they are tired of all us, we are like bugs flying around, they probably don't want to see us. Anyway, if they are officers they should be more friendly and they should find a way to serve each person."
Ms. Zuzana Smolikova is the director of the Committee for the Integration of Foreigners. She concedes that major improvements are needed:
"Making the law more transparent is definitely important. Another thing is the practical side; what I mean is the approach of office workers - issues such as the lack of language skills as well as their attitudes towards foreigners. In the case of the Foreign Police, they do not approach foreigners as clients but more from the standpoint of a repressive body."
The survey simply confirms foreigners what have known for a long time. The real task of actually changing legislation and attitudes now lies ahead.
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