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Visa rules making for border complications

New rules implemented in spring 2000 requiring foreigners living in Slovakia to have a visa sticker in their passports in addition to their long-term or permanent stay cards may create problems for foreigners trying to cross borders.
Ed Smith, an American living in Košice, tried to cross the Czech-Slovak border at the end of January. Because he did not have the necessary sticker, which he says he did not realise he needed, he was held up at the border for having insufficient paperwork.

New rules implemented in spring 2000 requiring foreigners living in Slovakia to have a visa sticker in their passports in addition to their long-term or permanent stay cards may create problems for foreigners trying to cross borders.

Ed Smith, an American living in Košice, tried to cross the Czech-Slovak border at the end of January. Because he did not have the necessary sticker, which he says he did not realise he needed, he was held up at the border for having insufficient paperwork.

"The border guard took my passport and long-term stay card and then told me to pull the car out of the line," Smith said February 13 from Košice. "The border guard then explained to me that he didn't have to let me into the country because I didn't have a visa sticker in my passport."

The guard, who Smith said had been "unusually polite", eventually allowed him to enter Slovakia with instructions to "get my paperwork in order".

Smith said that as he was the holder of a trvalý pobyt (permanent stay card), he thought his paperwork was in order. But according to a local residency consultant who asked not to be identified, police have changed the rules for foreign residents, but neglected to tell them they had done so.

Foreigners living in Slovakia can hold two types of long term stay cards: trvalý pobyt (given to foreigners with Slovak ethnicity or those who marry a Slovak, and valid for five years, at the end of which time the card holder can apply for citizenship) or the dlhodobý pobyt (long-term stay card) which allows foreigners to work in Slovakia and is valid for one year.

In the past, foreigners were given a rubber stamp in their passports to show that their paperwork was 'in order'. However, saying that the stamps were too easy to forge, the foreign police began requiring card holders to pay an extra fee for a sticker in an effort to cut down on illegal aliens.

Rather than calling in all card holders to update their papers and issue the stickers, the foreign police decided to institute the change gradually, issuing the stickers over a year as dlhodobý pobyt holders renewed their expired cards.

Many trvalý pobyt holders, however, having no reason to renew their cards in 2000, were thus not issued the new stickers in their passports. Nor were they informed of the change requiring them to get the visa sticker.

"Even if you have a trvalý pobyt valid until 2005, you must go every year [to the foreign police] and get the sticker," explained the residency consultant. "The problem is that the police never informed anyone of this requirement."

Marián Čambalík, the head of the visa section with the foreign police, told The Slovak Spectator February 14 that he could not explain Smith's border experience, that foreigners living in Slovakia "shouldn't have problems at the border if you have a valid passport and the card [but no visa sticker]. But I advise foreigners to visit their local foreign police office and get the stickers."

When asked why holders of the trvalý pobyt had not been told of the need to get the stickers, he said: "According to my information, we informed all foreigners that they needed the visa sticker."

He added, though, that foreigners should take responsibility for keeping themselves informed of any visa requirement changes. "If someone doesn't read the papers or isn't interested, then of course that person wouldn't know of the changes."

Additional reporting by Tom Nicholson

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