From Central Asia to Slovenia, from Student’s Visa to Permanent Residency
By Aigul Hakimova
In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan I studied at two educational institutions. The first one was a typical university with the usual faculties and curriculum (International University of Kyrgyzstan, faculty of International Relations), while the other was not as common. It was an Invisible college where I studied Philosophy. The Invisible College carried out a specific curriculum on individual bases that could be considered a supplement to an official university degree. As a student I used to work on many projects implemented by Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan, and from there I found out about HESP program (Higher education support program).
As a fresh graduate I had a strong desire to study abroad, or at least to leave my country for another one, where I could learn new things and get new experiences. My application was successful, and I was the happiest person on earth. I received a scholarship for five months; upon arrival to Ljubljana, I received a full scholarship for four years. After I contacted my future Ljubljana faculty for details about arrival, documents, and everything else needed for preparation, I bought my return ticket and left for Moscow, where I could get my visa for Slovenia.
Citizens of five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) were supposed to get their visas for Slovenia exclusively in Moscow, Russia. Therefore, the Slovenian Embassy in Moscow was in charge of my case too. I sent all the papers I needed for the visa in advance with my colleague who went to Moscow a few months before me. As I arrived to the Russian capital, problems began to pop up. I left Bishkek on 1st of October 2001 and entered Slovenia by bus at the end of November 2001. I had to live in Moscow for almost two months, waiting for a small sticker in my passport that would allow me to start my studies at Ljubljana Graduate School of the Humanities, ISH (Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis). I can only guess why it took the Slovenian Embassy so long to issue my entry visa. I was young and single, and I did not own any property in Kyrgyzstan; therefore I may have appeared to be not merely a foreign student but a potential future resident of Slovenia or asylum seeker. After all, Slovenia was not a part of the European Union at the time. I was desperate in Moscow as I waited for my permit to be issued and had no information on when it could be done.
In the meantime Aeroflot Airlines cancelled winter flights to Ljubljana, so I had to travel via Zagreb, which meant applying for another visa, the transit Croatian one. I managed to obtain both. Upon my arrival to Zagreb I took a 120-kilometer bus ride to Ljubljana. On the Croatian-Slovenian border my bus and its passengers had to wait for me for more than an hour. I remember the police checking everything without asking me a word. They just let me wait there for a long time.
I studied at the Department of Anthropology. Since I had to spend a significant part of my budget in Moscow while waiting for my visa, I had to start working immediately after my arrival. As a student I had the right to work in Slovenia; student jobs were regulated separately from other forms of employment, so any foreigner with a student’s status could work anywhere if he or she could find a job. I worked in many places for many years: factories, restaurants, tourist companies, warehouses, call studios, etc. I used to work from 6 am to 2 pm and go to lectures from 3 pm to 9 pm. However, no benefits are given for student work, so even if you have worked for many years, you do not accumulate rights that derive from your work (pension, maternity leave, unemployment benefits). The student workforce therefore, is the cheapest workforce in Slovenia. Another group of underprivileged workers is migrants, migrant workers in construction, and shortage occupations.
Student visas or permission to study gives the holder a residency permit, but living and studying in Slovenia for one year counts as having stayed in the country for only half a year. Such strange terms make it difficult to obtain a permanent residency permit (which is given after five years of staying in Slovenia).
I am very grateful to my friends from the African community who helped me prolong my first visa. In the beginning I had no idea how to wade through the complicated bureaucracy rules even though I had all the necessary papers. I am also very grateful to a worker from the Student Affairs office of my faculty who gave me tiny but very important advice during the first months of my integration.
A few years later I married my faculty mate, and we lived together for six years. I received my permanent residency permit in 2008 as a result of the marriage with a Slovenian citizen.
During my first years of study I had to arrange my health insurance through private insurance companies. Health insurance is a big problem for foreign students since they usually do not have a status of permanent residency. And anyone past 26 years of age has to pay the full amount. I think it is more than 120 EUR per month, which is too much for a student’s budget, and yet, having this insurance is important for the health and status. To be a resident, or not to be, that is the question.
Another thing I remember were the long queues in the office for foreigners, endless lines with hundreds of construction workers in their working outfits and stacks of papers in their hands. I have changed three Kyrgyzstan passports during the last ten years. As a citizen of Kyrgyzstan living in Slovenia, especially from the end of 2001 to 2007 (in December 2007 Slovenia entered the Schengen area), I visited so many embassies that I stopped keeping track. Every single wish to travel or attend an international conference was followed by enormous bureaucracy. My first two passports were filled with visa stickers.
It has become somewhat better for me. As of last year, I do not need visas to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The father of my daughter is coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we often visit his parents there. From 2008 to 2011, I was a regular visitor of Bosnian and Croatian embassies in Ljubljana. Because citizens of the so-called third countries were obliged to obtain visas and transit visas for anywhere they went, they moved beyond the Schengen area. From 2011 onwards, citizens of the so-called third countries who had permanent residency in one of the EU countries, no longer needed to obtain visas for certain countries of the European area.
I appreciate and remember every journey I made because I put in so much effort to pass obstacles to move from point A to point B. Everyone has the right to stay and the right to move—the future of Europe depends on these two rights.
And yes, I have successfully finished my studies.