22. 01. 2018 15:43
Images of foreigners camping outside the building of the so-called Alien Police in Bratislava in the early morning hours have made headlines in the Slovak press and became the most discussed topic among expats on social media. It's the institution that issues residence permits to foreigners moving to Slovakia - be it for work, studies or family reasons. From crowded spaces in old buildings and employees - of which the majority do not speak foreign languages even though they deal with foreigners - to a lack of a user friendly approach, this office has become legendary in a rather negative way. In an interview with Anca Dragu, the Alien and Border Police's director, Ladislav Csémi says he is fully aware of the criticism his office faces.
Yes, I read those reports in the media too. We have, however, some data which could help put things into context. In the past 5 years the level of legal migration to Slovakia has gone up by 75 percent. This is a huge figure. We have now 104,500 foreigners with residence permits in Slovakia. Only in the past year the number of applications went up by 30 percent. It has been difficult to deal with such an increased workload. Even if we have been trying to increase the number of employees and upgrade the infrastructure, mainly in Bratislava which is the main hub for foreigners, the volume of work has grown so much and at such a fast pace that we are still lagging behind. It's not possible from the point of view of the state budget to react so quickly to such changes. We have been trying to recover the lost ground. Now we have reached the moment when we're working on reconstructing facilities, opening new ones, recruiting more people, and upgrading the website.
AD: The hottest news at the moment is the move of the Bratislava office from that old building of I think a former kindergarten in Petržalka to newly refurbished premises in the borough of Vajnory. Critics say that the new location is at the outskirts of the city- some even found some symbolism in it- at the outskirts of the city and the outskirts of interest, as almost to say "out of public sight..."
I have to clearly and firmly reject such suggestions. The new location on Regrútska Street in the borough of Vajnory offers plenty of benefits both to foreigners and our employees. It offers a better space for our specific work, for example for dividing clients into EU and non-EU citizens. It allows us to extend the working hours and the number of counters. In Petržalka we had problems with parking for example because foreigners were parking their cars on the places for locals, but in the new location there are enough parking places for free for our clients. As a citizen I think that it's unfair to say that Vajnory is at the outskirts of Bratislava geographically or in terms of interest; judging by how the city is developing we will see if in 5-6 years the location of our office will be at the outskirts or not anymore.
When exactly will the Bratislava office start working at the new location?
I can't tell you an exact date now but I estimate that by the end of the first quarter of this year. We still have to put some final touches on the building but we will announce its opening in advance in the media.
You have said that you want to increase the human and technical capacity of the office. What does it mean in concrete numbers?
Well, this is a dynamic issue. The number of policemen will go up by 10 percent but I have to admit it will be done in two ways. There will be a direct increase via recruitment but also by the time we will fill all positions this way, colleagues from other, less busy offices in the country will be temporarily detached to Bratislava for example, to help here. We have to take into account the evolution on the labour market where there is a shortage of employees and more job offers. It affects police too as there is a lower number of people applying to join us than in the past. I have to recruit from this shrinking base but we are trying to make the work for Alien Police attractive to people. Apart from the general benefits of being a policewoman or policeman- training, education, the possibility of a long-life career- we also underline that the work for alien police is different and has some interesting perspective for the future as we are involved in managing the migration policy.
How much under capacity are you in terms of personnel overall?
Looking at the number of existing positions I would say 15 percent .But to reach the performance level which we see as optimal we would need some 30-40 percent more people.
One of the specific aspects of the work with foreigners is the knowledge of foreign languages. Although the situation has slightly improved in Bratislava, communication in a foreign language is still an issue at the Alien Police. Do you offer language courses to your employees?
I know that this is one of the main issues for which we have been often criticized but I will divide my answer in two parts. First of all I think police are a sample of society as such- roughly the same percentage of policemen speak foreign languages as Slovaks do in the entire population. We are dependent on the education system in this country. Given what I have already said about the challenges we have in recruiting new people it would be naïve from our side to put a foreign language as a mandatory requirement in the selection process.
But you can send them to language courses.
Yes, that's exactly what we have been doing for many years now. We even have drawn EU funds for these courses. These courses are for all employees of the Alien and Border Police in Slovakia.
Working with foreigners requires knowledge of multicultural communication beyond foreign languages- let's put it like this. Are your colleagues trained in this respect too?
At the moment we do not offer such training to our employees. Our priority right now is to reach the capacity at which we can offer our services at a comfortable level to cover our agenda. I would like to underline that we are also responsible for security issues linked to migration- "to serve and protect" as the police slogan says. The basic training that all police officers have to undergo includes lessons on communication. In the future we will deal with additional training in multicultural communication but at the moment we have to prioritize our activity.
What about investing in online services? It would help reduce the burden on your personnel if foreigners are able to find the right forms and easy to use guidelines on your webpage.
We have been working on improving the webpage. It should be ready in 2-3 months and I think we have found a way to make it interactive. It's true that by law we have some limitations on what we can do online but we try to use it as much as possible to improve our work. The best example is reporting short term stays in accommodation facilities such as hotels and in the future also those of individuals who register their residence for a shorter period in Slovakia. We also want to use online services to help manage the applications coming from so called strategic investors- companies which hire bigger groups of foreigners at once. They can make appointments online for example. The idea is that by dealing with them separately we will free time slots and personnel for individual applicants.
Talking about the foreign labour force there have been media reports on how some recruitment agencies have been cheating people which they bring here to work. The most known case involved Serb citizens. The Slovak Labour Inspection says that foreigners, especially those from non-EU member states who need a work permit in Slovakia, do not report wrongdoings because they are afraid the alien police would send them back home. How do you cooperate with bodies supervising the labour market? Do you monitor recruitment agencies?
By the nature of our work we cooperate with the bodies under the Labour Ministry including the Labour Inspection. I will not comment on why a foreign worker does not report something to them. I can say that yes, we monitor recruiters- we have even started criminal proceedings against some of them but I can't get into details. We have noticed an increase in the number of illegal employment of foreigners but not a dramatic one.