Kateřina Kopečná is a lawyer with a many years’ experience in counselling for foreigners. She mainly lectures residence legislation at the adaptation-integration courses as well as courses for students. In her lecturing, she pays the most attention to areas in which foreigners usually make mistakes. She also encourages people to look up as much information as possible themselves.
You usually lecture public courses for people with various residence statuses and different needs. What is it like?
Public courses with an open registration via Facebook and the Welcome to the Czech Republic website are very demanding. At these courses we have people who have come to the CR for different purposes such as studies, employment, business, and family reunification. At the same time, they come from different states of the world and the only thing they all have in common is the language of the course – English, Russian, Spanish, French, etc. However, their obligations connected with their arrival to the CR differ based on what country they come from. That’s why at the beginning of the course I talk to my group to find out the most about the individual participants, including how much knowledge they already have. With this in mind, I then decide on which areas we need to focus the most.
What is the most important information you emphasise in the part of the course focused on residence legislation?
Foreigners make a lot of unnecessary and basic mistakes which then cause a lot of trouble. In my courses, I pay the most attention to the very basics and I always make sure that the participants have understood me well. We use practical examples and I show them that it is possible to look up the information they need at the website of the Ministry of the Interior. I want to encourage the participants to do as many things as possible themselves.
At the beginning of the course I always ask whether everyone reported their arrival in the Czech Republic within 3 days at the Foreign Police. Most foreigners are obliged to report their arrival, unless their accommodator or the students’ dormitory have done it for them. Some foreigners arrive with a visa with the purpose of collecting the residence permit: these people do not report their arrival at the Foreign Police but at the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior (the Czech abbreviation is OAMP).
Together with the participants of my course, we look at the codes in their visas and residence permits and I explain the meaning of the codes. For example, the “D/VR” code stands for a visa based on which the foreigner comes to collect a long-term residence permit, which means that the arrival is reported at the OAMP. All information can be easily looked up at the website of the Ministry of the Interior or simply by writing “visa codes and residence permits” into the Internet browser. Thanks to these basics, the fundamental requirements associated with the stay in the Czech Republic become much clearer as all rights and obligations in the Czech Republic are related to them.
The term “purpose of the stay” is the alpha and the omega of the foreigners’ life in our country. What matters is the official purpose acknowledged by the Ministry of the Interior, based on which people are allowed to stay in the CR. Foreigners also need to be able to prove the purpose of their stay by respective documents: students can use their student certificate and those whose main purpose of stay is employment use their employment contract.
These are the very basic things but the truth is that most course participants don’t have a clue about what the symbols and codes on their visa or residence permit mean and very often they do not even know what the official purpose of their stay is.
The Residence Act is very complex. What methods do you use to explain it to the course participants?
Even lawyers find the Residence Act complex, so it is definitely difficult to understand for international newcomers. I therefore use as many illustrative examples as possible.
When we look at the course participants’ visas, that is visa stickers in their passports, and their residence permits, it gives me an opportunity to check whether they have been fulfilling one of their basic obligations: to always have these documents on them. Usually, there are a few people who have not brought these documents. And I am always asked whether a copy of the documents would do. Of course, it would not. I explain that I as a citizen of the Czech Republic also have to have my ID on me. Another document foreigners always need to have on them is the health insurance card. If they pay for their health insurance themselves, then they also need to have a certificate of payment of the commercial insurance.
During the whole course I communicate with the participants and I just offer them clues so that they can find the right answers themselves based on what has already been said. I do my best to motivate them to learn to think about their legal situation and to visualise the specific steps that need to be taken.
For example, when we come across the legal concept of “fulfilling the actual purpose of stay in the territory of the CR”, we explain it in simple words and talk about the specific situation of our course participants.
I also use examples from my legal counselling experience. I’ve helped foreigners who got into trouble just because they did not differentiate between two institutions – the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy (OAMP) and the Foreign Police. Foreigners keep mixing these up and call all authorities the Foreign Police. It originates in the past when foreigners in the Czech Republic really had to arrange almost everything at the Foreign Police. However, this changed many years ago and most issues are now dealt with by the OAMP but foreigners keep using the wrong name. It is important to know the names to be able to deal with the respective authority: if people send an application to the Foreign Police instead of the OAMP, the application cannot be accepted. And this may soon get them into trouble.
It seems to be quite complex, at least for the newcomers. Is there anything that people who have been living in the CR for some time should bear in mind?
It may seem complex but in fact there are about TOP 10 things which are easy to remember. People who come to the adaptation-integration course write down the most important things and then they have enough information to be able to stay in the CR for several years.
There are a few basic rules for people who have been residing in the CR for some time and plan to extend their residence here. In our courses we pay close attention to these rules as well. For example, it isn’t possible to change the purpose of the stay when transitioning from a long-term visa for over 90 days to a long-term residence permit. Foreigners have to keep fulfilling the same purpose of their stay. It may be changed under certain conditions only after they have received the long-term residence permit.
Another important thing is observing deadlines when applying for the extension. In the Czech Republic, deadlines have to be strictly followed!
It is also necessary to make sure that all data in your residence permit card – the biometric card – is up-to-date. Any changes have to be reported to the OAMP. The most frequent changes are the changes of the address, the passport data, and the marital status. Women who get married in the CR usually change their surname, too.
And to conclude, please tell us what it is like to lecture the adaptation-integration courses.
I like lecturing the courses very much. I’ve been a lecturer for several years but I can still see new challenges and things to improve. Each group of participants is different and the people I work with always inspire me. I am looking forward to every new course and the people I will meet there.