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GOVERNMENT WANTS MORE TIME TO JUDGE APPLICANTS' "MORAL FITNESS"

Foreigners face new barriers to citizenship

ACQUIRING Slovak citizenship will take longer and be more difficult under the terms of a proposed amendment to the State Citizenship Act scheduled to be approved this summer.

ACQUIRING Slovak citizenship will take longer and be more difficult under the terms of a proposed amendment to the State Citizenship Act scheduled to be approved this summer.

On March 6, the cabinet body responsible for legislation recommended that the government approve the law as of July 1, 2007.

The changes mean that foreigners will have to live in Slovakia on permanent residence permits for eight years before being eligible to apply for Slovak citizenship, rather than the current five.

Refugees who are granted asylum in Slovakia can currently apply immediately for citizenship, but under the new law will have to live in Slovakia for four years before being eligible to become Slovak citizens.

People of Slovak descent living abroad will have their wait time increased as well, from two years of uninterrupted permanent residency in Slovakia to three, before they can apply for citizenship.

The amendment will also introduce a Slovak language test and will tighten "moral suitability" criteria, although details of the last change were not available at press time.

Peter Kresák, the head of the Bratislava office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said he could not understand why the government wanted to make citizenship conditions stricter, and claimed that in doing so Slovakia would be violating its international commitments.

According to Kresák, "Slovakia is a party to various conventions that requires it to ease access to state citizenship as much as possible."

Kresák said that even under the current legislation, few asylum seekers ever receive citizenship. In 2006 the figure was only five from over 2,000 asylum applicants, while the year before it was only two.

The explanatory report accompanying the government amendment said the time extensions were necessary because "we need more time to examine citizenship applicants in depth given the rising danger of international terrorism and organized crime."

Asked if he could see a connection between those threats and allowing permanent residents to become citizens, the chairman of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, László Nagy, said: "I am not aware that Slovakia is in danger of general infiltration by terrorists. Such people would never receive citizenship under any circumstances."

However, Ján Slota, the head of the ruling coalition far-right Slovak National Party, welcomed the changes.

"We don't want to end up like in Kosovo, and allow Slovakia to be turned into the Albanian Republic where we will all be running around with turbans on our heads in 20 or 50 years," he said.

Former Interior Minister Vladimír Palko of the opposition Christian Democrats also approved of the new rules, and said Slovakia should also start differentiating between citizenship applicants by country of origin.

"We should have the right to say that we prefer Ukrainians or Russians over people from Muslim countries who come from completely different cultures," he said.

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