More Problems with Czech Bureaucracy

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One of the things I was warned about before accepting an invitation to become Chaplain to a continental European Anglican Church, was having to cope with a high turnover of members of the congregation. Many people come to major European cities as exchange students, visiting lecturers or on short-term contracts for international companies. Therefore, they may only worship with you for a few months and then move on. Just as you feel you have got to know them, they are leaving. The constant round of farewells I was warned, could become quite dispiriting.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed so they say. Therefore when an American couple, Tom & Myra, came to St. Clement’s for the first time on my first Sunday last September, I soon discovered that they would only be worshipping with us until the year end. Tom had a Fulbright scholarship and would be teaching for a semester at Charles University. They threw themselves into the life of the Chaplaincy and made many friends amongst members of the congregation. But, on the Sunday after Christmas, we had to bid them farewell as they returned to their home in Georgia, USA.

However, in the last couple of weeks I have lost one congregational member and am likely to lose another, neither of whom wants to leave but who are both being made to leave the country by the Czech Foreign Police. This is a wholly new situation, both for me and for the congregation.

The two people concerned, Karen and Anna, are both Americans and came to Prague in early November 2008 to undertake an intensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training course with the Caledonian School here in Prague. The school, like many others in Prague, offers TEFL courses to native graduate English speakers and guarantees a teaching job with the school, to all who successfully complete the course. It also promises to support all its newly qualified teachers with obtaining the necessary visa and work permit. The following is taken directly from their website.

“American, Canadian, Australian and European Union citizens do NOT need visas to enter the Czech Republic. American, Canadian and Australian citizens need a valid passport. The Caledonian School has a full-time visa assistant to help you through the process of applying for a work permit and visa (residency permit). Our visa assistant, Vera Antsiouova, will inform you about the process of obtaining your work/residency visas after you arrive”.

Back on 21st January, Karen & Anna were taken to the Czech Embassy in Berlin by the Caledonian School, in order to submit their applications for visas and work permits from outside of the Czech Republic. This procedure in itself seems somewhat absurd but apparently had previously been perfectly acceptable to the Czech authorities. However, on Thursday 2nd April, Karen was summoned the offices of the Foreign Police and Anna likewise a week later on Thursday 9th. They were both given what they believed at the time to be a four week extension to their tourist visas, to allow them to remain in the Czech Republic whilst they waited for their work and residency permits to come through the system. As they discovered a couple of weeks later, they had in fact been given deportation orders telling them to leave the country in four weeks or else face being banned from entering any of the countries covered by the Schengen agreement for five years.

As a result of all of this, Karen was forced to fly back to the USA last Friday and I fear that Anna, despite the last-minute personal efforts she is currently making, will also find herself in the same situation this coming Friday. Karen relates her experience of failing to get a visa as a TEFL teacher in Prague in this blog post. which also includes a link to an editorial in the English language weekly newspaper, ‘The Prague Post’ .

I admire Karen for not blaming anybody for what has happened to her, not even mentioning her language school by name in her blog. But I am forced to reflect on why this situation has come about even though I have been left feeling powerless to do anything to help these two ladies other than offering a listening ear. Having assessed the information available to me, I have come to the conclusion that no one person or organisation is totally to blame.

Certainly the Caledonian School does not come out this scenario in a very good light. Rather than getting Karen & Anna to apply for their visas as soon as their TEFL course finished in early December 2008, the school waited seven weeks before doing anything, using the excuse of Christmas and their visa assistant being on annual leave. Even worse was their failure to explain that what the Foreign Police gave them following their respective visits on Thursday 2nd & Thursday 9th April, was not a four week visa extension but rather a deportation order. Karen only found out the truth two weeks after receiving it when she showed hers to a Czech speaking friend.

I do also feel that both Karen & Anna were probably a little too trusting of the promises given to them by Caledonian. Apparently, a fellow student of theirs was far less trusting and kicked up a fuss several weeks earlier. As a result, her visa came through in time.

However, the Czech authorities also have to a lot of questions to answer too. As I understand it, they decided at the beginning of this year, to apply the immigration rules in a totally different way than they had previously, I suspect in part, to teach the various language schools a lesson for flouting the system as they had in the past. Karen & Anna and numerous other TEFL teachers thus became innocent victims caught in the middle of this power struggle.

The Czech Foreign Police also seem to be reacting to government pressure in the current economic downturn, to help ensure that available jobs only go to Czech people. They are therefore now taking the full 180 days they are technically allowed to use to consider work visa applications from non-EU citizens, rather than the previous 30-45 days that they used to take. This might make sense in relation to Ukrainian building workers but not to TEFL teachers. Language Schools and the firms who use them want TEFL teachers who are native first language English speakers. Karen & Anna are clearly not taking jobs from native Czechs! Rather, they are helping to provide an important service to Czech businesses and Czech business people.

There also remains a complete lack of clarity and consistency from the Foreign Police. Depending on who one talks to, answers and explanations differ. One is left with the ongoing suspicion of corruption within the system. How is it that many wealthy Russians (non-EU citizens) are allowed to reside here? Does money talk? Sadly, I think it does.

It is my fervent hope & prayer that this situation will eventually be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. That both Karen & Anna’s dream of working as TEFL teachers in Prague, living in & learning about a different culture than their own, will be able to happen. And that I won’t permanently lose two lively and intelligent members of my congregation.

12 comments to More Problems with Czech Bureaucracy

  • Ricky an interesting and sad post. Being a qualified TEFL teacher and living in Thailand I can relate to many of the points you raise which are mirrored here.

    Although I am retired from teaching I am well aware of the scruples of certain TEFL providers particularly linking courses to jobs. I am afraid it is very much a case of buyer beware in the TEFL course market and have blogged about it on my English Conversation blog.

    Here in Thailand individual offices of the Immigration Police apply their own version of the official rules which further compound a difficult situation.

    Your ministry (religious) in Prague sounds full of challenges but perhaps fares better than some of the churches back home. Coming from a small village in rural Nottinghamshire which always had a strong church in my youth, I now find that they are unable to attract a parish priest let alone parishioners.

  • Hi Ricky,
    This is a great post…someone needs to be talking about this and getting the word out so that others will not fall into this same trap. It is really a travesty that these language schools (not all, but most) continue to operate in such a manner. The other thing this school is guilty of is taking “taxes and social security” from their “employees'” pay checks! Where did this money go? And why were they taking it if their employees were not really legal employees?

    This whole system is more like indentured servitude! Only in this case, the “indentured servants” are sent back to their home countries! Shame on the Czech Republic for not cracking down on the schools and making them toe the line. And shame on the schools for treating people as if they were nothing but a source of money.

    I’m sad at losing a friend, Karen…and will be keeping her and Anna in my prayers. Hopefully they will be able to come back in the not too distant future.

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

  • It is difficult I know, living as an expatriate can be more than frustrating in many situations. It will come good and all will be wiser and more appreciative of where you stand afterwards. The secret is never to give up.

  • Ricky…and within 5 miles of your old parish in Oxfordshire, the district council has just given planning permission for Europe’s biggest detention centre for the UK unwelcome.

    Some of these will be be refugees stuck in a disgraceful limbo, often lasting years, created by a hostile UK government bureaucracy aimed at demonstrating it’s ‘tough on immigration’. Some of these will end up self-harming or attempting suicide whilst going through the stress of indefinite detention without trial as has happened at similar centres. Others will simply be people who have come to the UK in hope of helping their families out of poverty by finding work here, only to be treated as criminals.

    The Bicester area churches don’t seem to give a damn and have failed to utter a single word in opposition to the planning proposal for what will be, in effect, not much different from a concentration camp.

    More at the CABIRC website –

  • Oh Dear, it has gone pear shaped. Looks like no happy ending here such a shame. Yes money talks very loudly and unfairly in this world of corruption.

  • Sharon Jones

    Hello, I am a college career counselor who gives a workshop about Teaching English Abroad. I have a huge number of students ask me whether a certain school is legitimate, but have no way of knowing unless I receive feedback. What would you suggest as a good resource? Thanks.

    Sharon Jones
    UNC-Chapel Hill

  • “Hello, I am a college career counselor who gives a workshop about Teaching English Abroad. I have a huge number of students ask me whether a certain school is legitimate, but have no way of knowing unless I receive feedback. What would you suggest as a good resource?”

    Sharon there isn’t one source to satisfy your needs. The only way is through feedback, but of course its nigh on impossible to achieve any sort of database. Your students could try TEFL Blaclist or TEFL Watch but both these blogs seem to have gone off the radar possibly because of TEFL Industry big hitters putting pressure on them. My own blog English Conversation Online also carries a few articles on the subject.

  • jed

    Well, Ricky,
    If I were a Ukrainian building worker looking for a helpful sympathetic, supportive non-racist pastor I now know who not to turn to. Or (by the way) is it not true that one of the ladies you refer to happens to be Ukranian? So could it be that I am in fact wrong – you are not racist, merely elitist?


  • Ricky

    Jed – I’m not adverse to criticism, hence I’ve approved your comment. However, I do think it is somewhat of a cheap jibe.

    Firstly, please do read what I actually wrote. I clearly state that, “Karen and Anna are both Americans” by which I mean they are both citizens of the USA. Neither of them are Ukrainian. However, both Americans and Ukrainians are non-EU citizens and therefore do not have the same right to live and work in the Czech Republic as EU citizens do. You can of course argue that this in itself is racist by giving greater rights to EU citizens over and against non-EU citizens. But that is what every national government does or, in the case of the EU, what 27 national governments do collectively.

    When there is an economic downturn, the constuction industry is usually one of the first areas of economic activity to be hit. Therefore I used the example of Ukrainian building workers (of which there are many in the Czech Republic) as being people the Czech Foreign Police might not want to give work permits to at this present time in order to preserve the jobs of Czech citizens. I didn’t say it was right – I just said that it would be understandable.

    My point was and still is, that despite the economic downturn, Czech companies and businesses still want native English speakers to teach their employees English. Karen and Anna were not taking the jobs of Czech citizens because, almost by definition, Czech citizens are not native English speakers. You could argue that they were taking the jobs of British and Irish EU citizens who are TEFL teachers. However, the vast majority of British and Irish TEFL teachers prefer to work in countries such as Spain or Portugal rather than in the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

    Therefore, you are welcome to call me an economic realist but please, not a racist or an elitist.

  • Jed

    Hi Ricky

    One point to you – I had a private bet with myself that you wouldn’t post my comment. I lost.

    I feel, however that you are slightly wrong in what you say about building workers and teachers of English. I know nothing about the building industry, but I suspect that (like Polish plumbers in England) Ukrainian building workers in the Czech Republic may be filling a gap that Czech workers no longer wish to fill.
    As to teachers, I know from personal involvement as a teacher and trainer, that Czech teachers of English are increasingly in demand. It is sadly true that many some native speakers of English (I am not referring to Karen and Anne, whom I do not know) are here more for the life-enhancing experience than for any real desire to help their students learn English effectively. Most Czech teachers of English, on the other hand,especially those who do a Certificate course (Caledonian, ITC, Cambridge, Trinity or other) are committed to a life-time of serious teaching in the Czech republic. As citizens of the EU, British and Irish teachers of English have a right to work here. It could be argued that Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders ARE in fact taking the jobs of Czech citizens.

    I understand that you might regard my original comment as a cheap jibe. However, without what you added in your response to my comment, your original words could easily be taken (as I took them) as racist/elitist. And I do feel that many native speakers appear to take for granted what is not necessarily true -that native speakers are better teachers of English than trained Czech teachers.

    I shall not infer anything negative if you do not post this – it’s quite wordy and a little off the subject of your original blog.

  • Ricky

    Hi Jed,

    Your comparison of Ukrainian building workers in the Czech Republic with Polish plumbers in the UK may well be correct. I did only say that denying Ukrainian building workers a work permit in the CR ‘might make sense’ in the current economic climate. As you rightly say, it equally might not!

    I understand what you say about Czech teachers of English. However, you only have read translations into English by Czechs who think they can speak & write English to see quite clearly that they don’t!!! I note with interest, that both my Churchwardens, who are native English speakers and who make a living by translating from Czech into English, refuse to do translations from English into Czech. Why? Because although they both speak fluent Czech, they are not native speakers and realise their own limitations

  • Jed

    Hi Ricky

    I’ll make this my last, otherwise it will become tedious.
    You are quite right about Czech ‘translators’ whose command of English is less than satisfactory.

    However, I was writing about trained, qualified Czech teachers of English. Most of those I have encountered (often with a Master’s degree in English and a Cambridge FCE or better) have a better understanding of English grammar than most native speakers, a real commitment to their work, and genuine teaching ability. (Incidentally, most of them would refuse to do translations into English because they are trained teachers, not trained translators.) While it is true that their mastery of English is usually not as sophisticated as that of well educated native speakers, their teaching skills are more than adequate at all but very advanced levels (at which many native speakers are incapable of doing a good job), as is evidenced by the increasing demand from companies to schools for Czech teachers of English. Don’t forget that the vast majority of Modern Language teachers at all levels from primary schools to universities throughout the world are not native speakers.

    I stand by my claim: It could be argued that Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders ARE in fact taking the jobs of Czech citizens.