LENGTHY delays and a frustrating paper-chase for foreigners seeking long-term residence in Slovakia have become a thing of the past - at least for some.
On April 1, an amendment to the Law on the Stay of Foreigners went into effect, making the acquisition of long-term residence and work permission (a green card) much easier for citizens of European Union (EU) countries. However, application procedures for non-EU nationals have not been eased by the update, and in some cases times have even been extended.
The law, approved in December 2001, allows citizens of EU countries to submit green card applications at police stations in Slovakia, rather than going through Slovak embassies and consulates abroad, as is still the case for everyone else.
The law also stipulates that EU citizens who can show proof that they have a work contract or other reason to be in Slovakia, a place to live and health insurance, need wait only 14 days for their application to be processed rather than the previous 60 days.
Onno Simons, counsellor for the European Commission delegation in Slovakia, sees Slovakia benefiting from the new law. "I think there will be more and more people from the EU coming to work in Slovakia. I hope they will bring lots of investment with them, and the law will make it easier for them to do so.
"But I also hope that many other people from other countries will come to Slovakia and bring necessary investment, and that they will work to make this country a better place," said Simons.
For non-EU citizens, the bureaucratic maze remains. Besides housing lease agreements, work contracts and insurance documentation, applicants for green cards must also present evidence of a clean criminal record from their home country, a health certificate and proof that they can afford their stay in Slovakia. The application must be made at a Slovak embassy or consulate abroad, and the evaluation period has been extended to 90 days from the previous 60.
Procedures for the renewal of green cards have also changed. While EU passport holders can still request an extension within 14 days of the permit's expiration, citizens of other countries must now apply 60 days in advance.
Non-EU nationals will also have to submit proof that all taxes and customs duties, as well as payments to health care, pension and unemployment funds, have been paid. EU nationals only need to show proof of further employment, accommodation and health care.
US Embassy Consul Sally Potter attributed the move to relax requirements for EU citizens to the process of EU integration, but said she regretted that a wider group of foreign nationals would not be helped by the more generous regulations.
"They made an effort to move the laws in compliance with the EU," said Potter. "We hoped they would make it apply to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] member countries, but they didn't. So that left us and Japan and Canada and places like that where we have always been."
Police officials say their officers are prepared and that implementation has gone smoothly. "So far the law has been in effect 11 or 12 days. I haven't heard of any problems in this area," said Michal Borguľa from the Office of Border and Alien Police.
"All of our officers have been directly informed about the procedures for registering citizens from the European Union," he continued.
US Peace Corps Director Phil Stantial says that despite the bureaucratic difficulties, the foreign police have been helpful for the volunteer organisation throughout their term in Slovakia.
"At times the system is cumbersome, but with support from local authorities in Bratislava we've always been able to work things out," he said.
While noting that the Peace Corps, which has been in Slovakia since 1990, will complete their mission and leave the country this summer, Stantial added: "Anything that eases people coming into the country to offer assistance is a good thing."