A poster hanging on the second floor of the school advertising visa assistance has had all of the tear-away phone numbers removed; it’s clear students continue to have trouble finding help with visa issues in Prague.

As the Czech Republic’s requirements and rules for visa seekers’ change, the process becomes increasingly difficult. Some students question where they can turn for help.

Lenka Tureckova, former deputy of student affairs, is no longer working at Anglo-American University, leaving students wondering where they can turn for help. Student Services can assist with translating documents verbally. AAU’s webpage and catalog have basic information but do not cover specific situations students may encounter – and every student’s visa can vary and acute problems can arise.

Student Services offers all the help they can with translating  documents and calling the Ministry of Interior in Czech to make appointments, but there is not a faculty member specifically designated to focus on visa issues as Tureckova was.

Irena Valesova said Student Services is hindered because the Ministry of Interior will not release students’ personal information to the school.

“We are on the same level as the students” she said.

Valesova also admitted that the confusing nature of dealing with government offices is not limited to students. AAU staff is also often left confused because they have many duties and cannot focus on learning all of the many and constantly changing regulations.

At the Ministry of Interior office getting help really depends on who you get with your queue ticket, she says. Some people will really help and even tell you exactly what to write in a letter, and some are not helpful at all. Being lucky and getting help from these officials is a gamble for Student Services as well.

Valesova admitted the school is aware of students’ concerns and problems and staff have been discussing what they can do. They have considered finding an NGO who could come to the campus on designated days to help students, or even possibly having a sort of week-long workshop where an organization would be at AAU every day.

The student visa is the most easily obtainable but is valid for only six months. Changes to the guidelines from the Ministry of Interior state that students can no longer extend a student visa from within the Czech Republic. They must apply for the long-term residency permit for the purpose of study, or one of the work permits. These are harder to get approved and students have reported being denied on multiple occasions.

The University of New York in Prague, or UNYP, has an International Student Help desk for their students within the student affairs office to help handle everything a student may encounter including not only visa issues but housing, public transit cards, and insurance.

They will also track students’ visa status, remind students about deadlines, make appointments and update students on changes as the visa is processed.

CVUT, the Czech technical university in Prague, has a student club called ISC that can be joined for 500 Kc where students have access to a visa coordinator among many other things. Along with these schools, Charles University has the Information and Advisory Center where students can go for help.

AAU is trying to catch up and keep up with helping on these issues but still falls short of the other institutions.

There are businesses that will give legal advice and visa help for a fee, such as one advertised on the AAU bulletin board – CZVisa – but students have reported not getting results for what can be more than 5,000 Kc. Such companies can be found easily, advertised on English sites like Expats.cz. They will often offer a free consultation, and then quote their fee. Rates often do not guarantee results and are non-refundable.

The Association for Immigration and Migration, AIM (www.migrace.com), may be the best option for an AAU student seeking visa advice. They are an NGO providing free advice for foreigners. They can provide visa counseling as well as information on all issues a foreigner may face and their team of lawyers can help with all topics.

They also hold public events, and have ongoing projects to promote better conditions for foreigners living in the country. Anyone can get free advice on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday at their office in Prague 1, Senovazna 2.

If you are within the 90-14 day period for renewing your residence status, plan ahead to spend some time with the Ministry of Interior whether applying within your home country, or in Prague. You may find yourself waiting several hours for consecutive days, being shuffled from office to office.

It is possible to avoid some of this by making sure you go to the right office. Students living in Prague 2,4, 5, or 10 will need to go to the office in Chodov, Prague 4, located at Cigankova 2 (Chodov metro, then bus 136 or 154 to Na Jelenach). Students living in Prague 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 or 9 will need to go to the Zizkov office, Konevova 32, Prague 3 near the Krizikova Metro station.

Visa problems will probably never be entirely avoidable, but preparation can ease the pain. Students staying one semester should apply for the 6 month student visa, and students staying a full year will be better off getting the more difficult long-term residence permit before they arrive – they will need to midway through the year anyway.

Some embassies require students to first get a short-term student visa even if the student is planning on staying for a full year. Whichever a student chooses, these must be obtained before entering the country because they will need to collect their passport with the visa at the consulate where they applied.

When extending a student visa by applying for a long term residence permit, remembering to meet all the requirements and deadlines is very important and will greatly increase your chances of approval.

The deadlines are very confusing – one rule that is often misunderstood is that student visas are issued for 181 days upon entering the country and are not regulated by the dates printed; the stated expiration date does not necessarily mean you have until then to reapply, the visa must be applied for 167 days after entering the country at the very latest.

Entering the office knowing you have all of the required documents will feel more comfortable, and you can hand them over without speaking Czech – handy because the officials often will refuse to help if you cannot speak Czech.

At the Konevova office, one information desk clerk was heard to say the following – in perfect English: “Well, if you do not speak Czech I am not going to help you.”

Observers of the system believe that ministry staff are worried that native English speakers might have an advantage over those who speak it as a second language. In any case, they are discouraged from speaking English.

For the long term residence permit, students need to have the following documentation:

  • Completed application form;
  •  Two passport photographs;
  • Valid passport;
  • Bank statement showing sufficient funds (currently 46,460 Kc per four-month stay);
  • Document from the university stating purpose of stay, which needs to be obtained from Student Services;
  • Proof of accommodation (student services has these available but they must be given to your landlord, signed, notarized and returned to you);
  • Valid health insurance plan including proof of payment.

You will need the original of all of the forms as well as copies for yourself, but the Ministry of Interior will make their own copies inside their office. If you have all of these with you, you will easily be able to hand them over to the clerk  without much of a hassle.

If you can speak enough Czech and are willing to call repeatedly, it’s also possible to avoid waiting in the stuffy ministry office by making an appointment via telephone. Student Services can also help in making these appointments.

Along the road to being granted approval to stay and study in the Czech Republic there will always be unforeseen hurdles. But extensive research and proper preparation will make them more headache than disaster.