International research in Bohemia

Young Chinese or Indian scientists are not only smart, but also highly motivated; it’s only up to them whether they get a well-paid position in science or return home. Therefore many of them work twelve hours a day and becoming the “drought horses” of molecular biology. All of our top researchers have a collection of experiences in foreign universities or institutes on their CVs. They obtain professional experiences, learn how to do top science and also earn quite a lot. In the U. S., it is known what benefits this international dimension gives to science. Our scientists understand it too as well. Molecular parasitologist Julius Lukes from The Institute of Parasitology of The Czech Academy of Sciences says: “If anyone from India contacts me, then he probably read one of my articles and in frame of a Ph.D study would like to work on our projects. Both sides profit; he will learn a lot and open the way to West, we will obtain a motivated colleague, who doesn’t think about leaving for a cottage on Friday. In addition, he speaks English so that communication with him is going to substitute for a stay in the U. S. for the students of mine.”

And what about Czech laboratories?
USA has already simplified the immigration terms for foreign researchers so that a scientific institute or a university just picks the interested person, fills-in one form and asks for a visa. The sentence “We want this person, he is going to work on our project” is sufficient to obtain almost immediately a three-years-visa from any of the U. S. embassies, with an almost automatic possibility of extension. In the Czech Republic, it is absolutely different. “To obtain a visa requires a bureaucratic war lasting at least one year. It happens too often, that in the moment when everything is finally done, it is already pointless. Skilled and interested people usually ask at different places at a time and so another country will accept them more quickly,” notes dr. Michal Zurovec from the Institute of Entomology and adds: “The state and society is losing with such an approach, for it means that it is only a Ukrainian worker who is coming. We surround ourselves with the Great Wall of the Czech bureaucracy and think that the progress will come by itself.”


“I really like to have foreign researchers in the lab. That’s the only reason why I’m still trying,” explains Dr. Lukes. Last time he felt just like in Kocourkov (stays for a “mad land”) when Sandesh Regmi, 28 from Nepal, showed an interest to work in his laboratory. “The unbelievable “hassle” started. Absurd requirements like that visa application must contain a confirmation that accommodation will be provided for the foreign scientist or Ph. D. student. This must be signed by the dean or director and confirmed by an extract from the land register. Next, we must add an authorized institute charter, then an extraction of the Czech criminal record. Everything must be done twice because we have to apply for both study and work visa,” Dr. Lukes says. Next, the labor bureau has to give consent. “The bureaucrat has no idea what is DNA catenation. How could he know whether any Czech is waiting for this job or not? The American laboratory’s boss does not need to deal with anyone,” laments Dr. Lukes. But let’s return to Sandesh’s story, who wants to study on Leishmania, a parasite responsible for severe diseases in his country and so approached the Faculty of Biology of the University of South Bohemia and the Institute of the Parasitology. A sequence of events reminiscent of the fairy tale “About the hen and the cock” commences.

When all the necessary documents were put together including super apostled diplomas – specially approved by expensive interpreters from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a few words for 2000,-Czech crowns), Sandesh was accepted for the Ph.D study on the bows of a recommendation letter from an English professor. With all these papers, he visited the Czech consulate in Kathmandu, Nepal. The consulate it self does not process the visa and passed them to Czech Embassy in New Delhi, India. From there the consent of Czech Foreign police for issuing a visa is requested. Four months later, the visa was issued– but only the study one. The embassy didn’t issue the working one since copies of some documents were missing. “All this happened because of misinformation by the consulate employee, for that of course no one is going to be punished” adds Lukes. “But even without this error everything would take almost a year due to official terms. Just a remark! Our officials know two kinds of visas for Ph.D. students- the study and the working one. Thanks to several motivated Czech scientist a law has been passed that allows obtaining both visa at once. It means that the applicant can get a part-time job at an institute or an award from a grant together with the state support for a PhD student ( 5000 Czech crowns/month). One can survive on that.

The battle hasn’t been won yet. Before issuing the study visa the foreign police asked, whether Sandesh had already been matriculated for regular study. “I was explaining: You’ve got a paper signed by the dean that he was accepted. However, it is illegal to matriculate a student not knowing in which semester he will be able to start his study! The foreign police replied, we wouldn’t issue the visa until he is matriculated. Lukes describes the never-ending story. Finally, the study visa was generously issued and Sandesh arrived”. But what about the working visa? “According to our law it’s possible to ask for it only abroad and only in person at one of the Czech embassies the one in Bratislava was picked up by us. To get there, unfortunately, Slovaks has to issue an entry visa to Sandesh. Thanks to collaboration between the Komenius University, we made it finally through the hassle. It just took another few months and a personal visit was again required. Almost after one year Sandesh finally received also the working visa” says Lukes. After reading this for, the reader probably won’t be surprised that the visas are given to foreigners for one year only and any prolongation means a next series of bureaucratic steps.

The result is clear: foreigners are not coming. “Or the third rank at the best, because the first and the second one are rather going to German or Canada,” complains Libor Grubhoffer, the vice-rector of University of South Bohemia. “Well, it’s true that there it’s much worse in Russia, since a scientist Turkmenistan must pay a special fee there. Yet, science is on its knees there!.” Does all these status matter to Czech science? Prague remains attractive for scientists and a number of international meetings take place there. Without the bureaucratic obstacles the second grade would surely be coming and not only to Prague. “We know about an American colleague who wanted to come but in the end gave up,” remembers professor Grubhoffer, “the necessity to apply in person as well as all the bureaucratic requirements have already killed a number of international collaborations in the Czech Republic.”

“A laboratory that has no one from abroad in the team has no problems. I want to do good science, I want it to have as international dimension – besides the fact that the team should be international – and so we have problems,” Lukes says and adds: “Here we are trying to bring the intelligence – and from what else than the brain influx will the society profit. But here we are facing a machinery that doesn’t care whether you are smuggling in a Ukrainian guy for an illegal work or an American professor for a top science!”

The lack of foreign scientists is an evergreen issue for Czech Academy of Sciences chair, she does not deny that. “We are trying to simplify the rules within the boundaries of our capabilities,” she says. Multiple discussions with the foreign police lead to an agreement that one document only instead of four approved by a notary, suffice. The change of the law for employment is also being prepared: in collaboration between the Academy and the Czech government. “We hope to achieve that the labor bureau issues a permission to employ a foreign scientists for the Academy regardless of situation on the labor market. And let’s hope this permission will one day be for a longer period than a year.” According to professor Illnerová, the negotiation’s aim is to favor long-term applicants whose stay is of special interest to the Czech Republic – foreign scientists being a prominent group among Tesla. “This practice has already been well established in many countries,” concludes Illnerová.