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Firms shrug off new visa requirements

British-based companies doing business in Slovakia maintain they have not been greatly affected by the visa requirements imposed by UK and Slovak authorities in the first half of October. Despite the added fees and delays, they say, the visa regime is not a severe inconvenience.
"It is another drop in the bucket of administrative barriers, but it's not something we can't overcome," said Radovan Pekník, external affairs officer with Coca-Cola Beverages Slovakia, which has its headquarters in London. Pekník reported that his company's top management make frequent business trips between the two countries.

British-based companies doing business in Slovakia maintain they have not been greatly affected by the visa requirements imposed by UK and Slovak authorities in the first half of October. Despite the added fees and delays, they say, the visa regime is not a severe inconvenience.

"It is another drop in the bucket of administrative barriers, but it's not something we can't overcome," said Radovan Pekník, external affairs officer with Coca-Cola Beverages Slovakia, which has its headquarters in London. Pekník reported that his company's top management make frequent business trips between the two countries.

The British Home Office imposed a visa requirement on Slovak citizens on October 8, in an attempt to stem the tide of economic refugees flowing into the UK. The Slovak government retaliated with a visa policy of its own, which became effective for UK nationals as of October 15 (see related stories, page 4).

Ján Figeľ, head of the Bratislava-based Slovak-British Parliamentary Commission, said he saw the moves as a step backwards for business cooperation between the two countries. Speaking to The Slovak Spectator from Ottawa, on his way to Brtiain for an October 22 meeting with British authorities, Figeľ called the visa policies"a negative impulse. If nothing else, it will at least make the companies pay the required fees."

The companies affected, however, had already begun to adjust to the new situation by obtaining long-term visas for their employees. "We have asked for two-year visas for about ten people in our company," said Coca-Cola's Pekník. "It meant for us mainly time spent, some small initial problems, and the extra costs we had to cover from our budget. [10 two-year visas cost the company 42,500 Sk ($1164)]. But in the end we're fine, because we don't have to bother with this for another two years," he added.

Peter Kerlík, the press spokesman of the British Embassy in Bratislava, said that companies like Coke were not limited even to two-year visas. "If a company proves its need to visit Britain frequently, they can be given long-term visas with an unlimited number of border crossings. The longest validity is five years."

The costs for obtaining the British long-term visas stretch from 3,300 Sk ($95) for six months to 5,200 Sk ($144) for five years per person.

The situation is similar with Slovak long-term visas for British citizens. According to one senior Foreign Police official, it is now possible to obtain a visa in one day, even though the provisions of the long-term visas are not as generous as the British equivalent - British business people can 'book' their visas to Slovakia for a maximum of six months, for a price of 44.5 British pounds ($73).

"It's bad, but it's not going to put me off doing business with Slovakia," said Nick Smith, director of a small firm called Equip, which deals with safety equipment. Smith's company trades with a Slovak safety equipment maker called Timus from the central Slovakia town of Banská Bystrica.

Smith warned, however, that the restrictions were still a nuisance and counterproductive for Slovakia. "I have already started trading with Slovakia, but if I hadn't, I would have looked for another central European country which didn't have such restrictions," Smith explained.

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