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The Ruling Majority Has Approved The Controversial Amendment To The Foreigners Act

On Tuesday, the National Assembly adopted the amendment to the Employment, Self-Employment and Work of Foreigners Act with 56 votes in favour and 20 against, thus simplifying the process of employing foreigners. The coalition welcomed the amendments as they address the problem of staff shortages in the public sector and the economy. Meanwhile, the opposition believes that the amendment opens the door to abuse.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly held an extraordinary session to consider a draft amendment simplifying the acquisition of residence and employment permits for foreigners. Presenting the amendment to the Foreigners Act, Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar said that the law primarily removes administrative barriers to the employment and integration of foreigners, thus bringing the law closer to the people and ensuring that it works for them. He pointed out that they were maintaining the language requirement for family members and those who wished to live permanently in Slovenia but giving them enough time to acquire the necessary knowledge through free courses. The Minister believes that the amendment strikes a balance between the various interests.

MPs from the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS) said at a meeting of the committee on Monday that language skills are the cornerstone of integration, that the act in question should tighten up supervision, which should be systematic and effective, that removing language skills would mean further misunderstandings and conflicts in society, and that the individual should be encouraged to adapt to the environment and integrate into the community. They pointed out that foreigners should integrate and accept the language and culture, and that there was a need to ensure that there was sufficient capacity to run the language courses offered to them. Language must be understood and used, as it is essential for integration and, consequently, for everything else. Despite criticism, including from some NGOs and one of the coalition parties – the Left party (Levica), MPs did not remove the article on the requirement of A1 level Slovenian language skills for family members of foreigners from the amendment. Instead, they only expanded the range of institutions that carry out Slovenian language tests and set an 18-month transition period for the amendment to come into force.

Vida Čadonič Špelič said that the New Slovenia (Nova Slovenija – NSi) party’s goal is to achieve the best possible integration of foreigners into Slovenian society – knowledge of the Slovenian language and Slovenian culture must be a condition for obtaining a residence permit, “and we cannot and will not deviate from these fundamentals,” the MP stressed, who also emphasised respect for the Slovenian legal order as a very important part of integration. She pointed out that the proposed amendments should be debated widely and that such a law should be adopted under ordinary procedure.

The NSi party also believes that administrative units should continue to periodically check whether foreigners meet the condition of sufficient means of subsistence, which is in line with the law currently in force. “We argue that the condition of knowledge of the Slovenian language at the entry level for the extension of a temporary residence permit for the purpose of family reunification is one of the cornerstones for better integration of foreigners into society,” she added, noting that the Minister seems to be aware of this, but that the coalition is not fully following him. She announced that the proposed law would not be supported by the party’s group of MPs.

Branko Grims first pointed out that when it comes to the issue of foreigners, there are always self-appointed guardians who try to appropriate this question. However, in practice, he said, it is very simple: what is the interest of a foreigner who comes to us with the honest intention of working and earning money? The highest possible salary. Who has enabled them to do this? “Our government, in the last mandate, as it cut taxes and thus allowed a higher net salary for all employees,” the MP stressed, recalling also who then cut wages. “The Golob government, which raised taxes and made it impossible to increase wages, or rather lowered wages,” Grims explained who was really defending whose interests.

He went on to remind everyone that the issue is multi-faceted and that there is a dark side to the immigration of foreigners, which has also been pointed out by the Mayor of Kranj, who comes from the Social Democrats (Socialni demokrati – SD) party. Grims also quoted the mayor of Velenje, who is also from the ranks of the SD party, who pointed out that the general economic situation had led to an increase in the number of applicants for social transfers and expressed his justified concern about the need to ensure sufficient resources – both in the municipal budget and in the budget of the Republic of Slovenia – if the periodic checks on the fulfilment of the condition of sufficient means of subsistence were to be abolished. The Mayor of Kranj was even clearer and explicitly opposed the adoption of such a law under the urgent procedure. All this has been overlooked in the coalition because they are blindly following an ideological construct. Then there is the question of the attitude towards the Slovenian language. “Instead of strengthening the control over the abuses that are taking place and pointing them out from the field, you are removing these safeguards,” Grims was critical.

The National Assembly adopted the amendment to the Employment, Self-Employment and Work of Foreigners Act with 56 votes in favour and 20 against

State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Igor Feketija, reiterated that the amendment to the law brings three key changes that will speed up the employment process for third-country nationals. The new amendments are in line with the amendments to the Foreigners Act, which were also approved by the National Assembly on Tuesday. The first change is that once the amendment enters into force, a foreigner will only be able to change their employer, their job, or get employed with several employers during the validity period of the single permit on the basis of the consent of the Employment Service of the Republic of Slovenia, and no longer on the basis of a decision issued by an administrative unit. However, the provisions of the amendment will not apply to the second key change due to staff shortages in the provision of public services to foreigners who will be employed in public health and social welfare institutions such as healthcare centres, homes for the elderly and social welfare institutions. The third key change, also made by the State Secretary, allows asylum seekers to exercise their right to free access to the Slovenian labour market after three months of having the asylum seeker status, instead of nine months, the Slovenian Press Agency reports.

Alenka Helbl (SDS) was critical of the fact that the amendment was adopted under the urgent procedure because, in her words, if it had not been adopted, that would not have caused irreparable consequences for the functioning of the state, especially since the need for labour addressed by this law did not arise suddenly. The SDS party was also bothered by the fact that the Legislative and Legal Service of the National Assembly had comments on 24 of the 37 articles of the amendment and that the amendment was, therefore, heavily amended. The SDS party was particularly opposed to the abolition of consent or the issuing of a decision by the administrative unit, since once foreigners have obtained a single permit for residence and work at the employment office, they are no longer considered by the unit, which means that in practice, after just one month, no one is checking whether they still meet the conditions for work and residence in Slovenia. This would also open up a wide field for abuse of social transfers, which is why several amendments were tabled as conditions for their support for the amendment, but all were rejected.

Sara Kovač

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