Prague: Schengen could spell trouble for illegal expats as crossing border to renew 90-day tourist visa won't work in '08
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Fri Sep 7 13:34:22 UTC 2007
Schengen could spell trouble for illegal expats as crossing border torenew 90-day tourist visa won't work in '08
By Julie O'SheaStaff Writer, The Prague PostSeptember 5th, 2007
The Czech Republic will officially be a member of Europe's burgeoningSchengen zone by the start of next year, a move that could potentiallyput dozens of foreigners working here illegally in a major bind. Overthe past two decades, teaching English as a foreign language hasbecome a booming business, funneling hundreds of eager, youngtravelers into the country each year. The profession is one of theeasiest ways to earn cash for those without a visa or work permit. Butthat may be about to change in 2008.Crossing the border every 90 days to renew a tourist visa — a populartactic currently used by many in the teaching community — will nolonger be a viable option under the Schengen Agreement, whichessentially eliminates passport checkpoints but makes it harder tostay in member countries past three months. As this law reads rightnow, non-European Union citizens without a valid visa are only allowedto stay within this border-free area up to 90 days within a rollingsix-month timef!
rame. Those caught without proper paperwork could faceserious consequences, least of all the threat of deportation.
Currently, 15 countries are Schengen members with 10 more in Centraland Eastern Europe scheduled to join within the next couple of months."The foreigners living here illegally are … exposed to routineimmigration and police checks," says Petr Vorlíček, a spokesman forthe Interior Ministry. "The practice, in this respect, will not differfrom the current situation when enforcing the national immigrationlaw." An often-heard complaint among English teachers in Prague isthat there seem to be very few language schools here willing to helpexpats through the tedious and costly visa process. As a result, manyteachers choose not to bother dealing with these time-consuming andsometimes confusing legal issues on their own.
"It's so difficult to get a work permit here, especially if yourschool won't sponsor you," says Mark Wright, a 33-year-old from Texaswho has been teaching English in Prague without a visa for the pasttwo years. "If they actually enforce this [border law] the way it iswritten, I have a feeling a lot of people are going to leave." Wrighthad started to think about the possibility that he was going to haveto leave at the end of next March when his final 90-day tourist visaexpires; however, he recently landed a teaching job with a school thatplans to help him get a work visa. "I don't really want to risk neverbeing about to come back to Europe and have my name put on some sortof Schengen [offenders] list," Wright says.
This is something that worries Molly Weisse-Bernstein, too, but, "thecountry needs to balance the need for English teachers with the lawsthey are trying to enforce," she says. "It doesn't do the country anygood to make it impossible for native [English] speakers to getvisas." The 27-year-old New Mexico native recently left Prague after ayear of teaching English. There are two main governing bodies in thecountry, which oversee standards for language schools. The CzechAssociation of Language Schools lists 17 member schools on its Website. The Association of Czech Language Schools and Agencies has 25members, four of which are in Prague.
"All our members help their foreign teachers to obtain [visa and workpermits] in respect of the Czech visa policy and work law," explainsŠtěpán Blahůšek, the association's president. "I cannot say how manynonmember schools do not respect this policy."Of course, Blahůšek adds, "with more traveling teachers, the languageschools must be more careful to choose qualified and responsibleteachers." They should also make sure all their teachers are legal,says Kate McCloghry, director of studies at Threshold TrainingAssociates, a language school in Prague 5. "It's enormously risky forschools to employ illegal teachers," she says. Unfortunately, though,as McCloghry points out, it happens all the time."We only have legalteachers, which might sound strange," she says. "It's not the norm."
Asked if schools might start opting to hire only EU citizens orbilingual Czech nationals once Schengen hits, McCloghry shakes herhead. "Clients still ask for an American teacher," she says. "Theywant to hear an American accent." Despite these strict upcomingchanges to the border laws, McCloghry, along with many others familiarwith the language school scene here, note that the reality of Schengenhasn't fully set in yet."Judging from our experience, the vast majority of teachers doesn'teven know what the term means," says Martina Šindelářová, thepersonnel and quality manager at Caledonian School, one of Prague'sbiggest language campuses. Caledonian, through a relocation company,provides full visa and work-permit support to all full-time employees,Šindelářová says.
"But it can happen that there are those who rely on the possibility toreenter the country every three months to legalize their stay withinthe Czech Republic," she adds. "I believe this will be much moredifficult from now on." It will also be harder to work illegally,McCloghry says. "I don't know if that is necessarily a bad thing,"she says. "The upside is that schools will take more responsibilityfor visas." Regardless of how things turn out, there are someforeigners who simply aren't that worried. "I just don't care — Idon't," says Mike Karesky of San Diego, who recently went through aTEFL training program in Prague. "If some country chooses to deportme, I'll go somewhere else. I feel I'd be an asset anywhere I land."
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