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Getting a green card is no laughing matter in Slovakia

If you think you can fool Slovak immigration agents with a couple of lame Polaroid photos just like Gérard Depardieu did in "La Carte Verde," you better forget it, because the green card story is more like a red tape story here.
That's because the nature of the green card game has changed, as Slovak bureaucracy has started to enforce the legalities stemming from changes to the immigration law passed two years ago. "Many of these requirements were stated in the 1995 law," said Beáta Kozmonová, co-owner of Enterprise Resources International, a company that has helped foreigners arrange long-term or short-term stays in Slovakia for the past four years. "But before they were not interpreted as strictly."
As an example, Kozmonová cited the case of a client who lost his green card and didn't report it to the police. When time came to extend his long-term stay permit, he confessed that he had lost it sometime before.

If you think you can fool Slovak immigration agents with a couple of lame Polaroid photos just like Gérard Depardieu did in "La Carte Verde," you better forget it, because the green card story is more like a red tape story here.

That's because the nature of the green card game has changed, as Slovak bureaucracy has started to enforce the legalities stemming from changes to the immigration law passed two years ago. "Many of these requirements were stated in the 1995 law," said Beáta Kozmonová, co-owner of Enterprise Resources International, a company that has helped foreigners arrange long-term or short-term stays in Slovakia for the past four years. "But before they were not interpreted as strictly."

As an example, Kozmonová cited the case of a client who lost his green card and didn't report it to the police. When time came to extend his long-term stay permit, he confessed that he had lost it sometime before. "The police advised him that it was impossible to apply for an extension of something he didn't have," recalls Kozmonová. The man was obliged to register the loss at the local police station, wait a period of 21 days to confirm that the document had not been found, and then return to the Border Police office with a certificate confirming the loss. But when he attempted the last step, the Border Police told him that the 14-day re-application period had expired, that his file had been taken to the archives, and that he would have to re-start the application process. "From America," concluded Kozmonová, pursing her lips.

Hold on to that diploma

Some foreigners seeking to work or live here will compile frequent flyer miles during the process, because as of February 14, 1997, applicants for long-term stays in Slovakia must arrange everything through the Slovak embassy in their native country.

Well, not quite everything. Applicants must first visit Slovakia to obtain a) an extract from the Slovak criminal register; b) a medical certificate from a Slovak hospital; c) a work permission certificate from the Slovak employment office. Having secured these forms, applicants must return to their countries of origin and submit them to the Slovak embassy there, which will then forward the entire application package to the Foreign Office in Slovakia.

Kozmonová wrung her hands as she recounted another tale of a foreigner caught in the green card morass. "I promised, for example, the director of [the multinational confectionery firm] Nestlé that everything could be arranged here. Although he is not so unhappy [for having to return to Switzerland for the application process] I feel like a liar. And when we are talking about a family of five from America, it's terrible."

Other changes to the law make it yet more difficult to arrange work documents. Each district of Bratislava now has its own border police and employment office; before, the capital had one of each. Complicating matters more, foreigners must deal with the border police of the district in which they live, but the employment office of the district in which they work. And there's more; whereas it was formerly possible to sign over one's power of attorney and have a second party arrange matters, now each applicant must do everything in person. "The laws are changing quarterly, [even] monthly," Kozmonová complained. "I think somebody does not have enough work to do."

Despite all the tinkering, a new measure came into effect on April 1, courtesy of the Labor Ministry, which requires all foreigners applying for work in Slovakia to submit their university diplomas, translated into Slovak, to the employment office before work permission is granted. Stony indifference greets applicants who have lost, never received or are otherwise not possessed of diplomas. "Only the employment office director is empowered to grant an exemption from the law," Kozmonová said. "Legally, he is required to demand [the diploma]."

Stock excuses

Pavol Ňuňuk, former Director of the Border Police, argued that the "new laws are demanding exactly the same as what is required of Slovak citizens who want to work in Austria or Germany," and added that they represent little more than a tightening of legislation that had originally been passed in July 1995.

Ňuňuk added that Slovakia's immigration law is designed to be tough on foreigners to protect the country from illegal immigrants. As Kozmonová explained, "the government has had a lot of problems with illegal Chinese, Vietnamese, Ukrainian and Yugoslav immigrants."

Yet the permit net snares all immigrants, whether they plan to stay in Slovakia legally or illegally, and this could have a chilling effect on those whose desire to live and work in the country are aboveboard. "For every ten [people] who return to their country to wait for their green cards," Kozmonová said, "only five come back."

Still, the situation is not entirely bleak for foreigners who wish to work in Slovakia. Ňuňuk stressed that there are still "some organizations" which have standing exemptions from the interior minister, and Kozmonová added that teachers and lecturers have little problem in winning 'exceptions' to the rules. While these exemptions have recently become more difficult to secure - they must be authorized by the interior minister - Kozmonová plans on doing some lobbying. "I am on the list to see the minister sometime soon," she said, "maybe I can explain to him how difficult the law is for some people."

Devín Banka profits from Russian ties

1995, saying he lost Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's confidence. He stayed in the intelligence field, though, and now works for the opposition party Democratic Union as its advisor on security matters.

Cibula claims Martinka's resignation happened due to a long-lasting disagreement with Sergei Georgievich Gorodkov, the chairman of Devín Banka's board of directors and a representative of the Russian shareholding company Mezhdunarodnaya Finantsovaya Kompanya (International Finance Company - MFK). MFK is based in Moscow and was created out of the ashes of the former clearing bank for COMECON, the trade group of the former socialist countries and Russia.

''The fact that Gorodkov, a Russian citizen, is the board of directors' chairman means the Russians have a key influence in the bank, and through it, further influence on the government and political structures in Slovakia," Cibula said.

MFK and the Russian company Energija own 31.8 percent of Devín Banka's shares, according to National Bank of Slovakia's bank supervision department. It is well-known that Energija represents Russian petrochemical circles directly linked to Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Another 14.9 percent of the bank shares belongs to Apis, registered as a Slovak company and based in the village of Rakovce near Turčianske Teplice in western Slovakia. According to Cibula, the capital behind Apis is also Russian. If true, that would mean the Russians own 46.7 percent of Devín Banka.

"There are rumors that they act in unison, but we've been unable to prove it," said Vladimír Hromý from the supervision department. Hromý continued that Martinka is suspected of pulling the strings at another of the bank's strategic shareholders, the investment fund IFOR that owns 14.9 percent, but said the central bank has been unable to date to prove the alleged connection1.

The Slovak government's press office denied that the Russians own a majority of the bank. In a statement, the press office stated that 68.2 percent of Devín Banka is in the hands of Slovak shareholders, but would not specify beyond that.

Privileged status

Devín Banka was founded in 1992 by some Slovak cooperatives and trade unions (in education, mines and geology, and mechanical engineering) Due to the bank consistently doling out bad loans under the leadership of Vladimír Bachár, the first director, the bank became heavily indebted. According to Cibula, the bank now has bad loans worth some 900 million Sk. Its stated net profit in the first half of 1996 was 11 million Sk.

Considering the bank's debt burden, some eyebrows were raised when in summer 1995, the government decided to charge Devín Banka as the point player in recouping Russia's old debts to Slovakia worth some 30 billion Sk ($1 billion).

Devín Banka has gotten back part of the Russian debt so far, in the form of Russian MIG-29 fighter jets worth 4.9 billion Sk. But military leaders have questioned the jet deal, saying these planes are not well-suited for the Slovak army because they will require additional expenditures. Nevertheless, Devín Banka received a handsome payment for negotiating the deal - 296 million Sk.

More ties

Other developments strengthen the case of the cozy relationship between Devín Banka and Russia. For example, Devín Banka's daughter company, Devín-Groupe, is a 33.5 percent owner of recently-founded Slovak Airlines, a government-blessed national air carrier.

This ownership breakdown was provided by former minister of transportation Alexander Rezeš, who said in January at a press conference announcing Slovak Airlines' creation that the airline will use Russian planes that Slovakia will receive as yet another payback of Russia's outstanding debt. ''While other central and eastern European countries try to diversify their fleet of planes, our national air carrier will be oriented solely towards Russian production," Cibula said. "That is another [sign of] dependence, because we will depend on Russian service for the planes."

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