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Visa, work permits Q&A. Part I

You write and complain a lot about the Russian bureaucracy and difficult immigration laws, but look at your own Western countries. I do not think that things are any better there.

By Jon Hellivig, The Russia Journal
Jul 28, 2003
You write and complain a lot about the Russian bureaucracy and difficult immigration laws, but look at your own Western countries. I do not think that things are any better there. I am a 22 year-old Russian woman and wanted to improve my English. Now, after we finished our studies, a friend and I decided to take some time off from work to go to practice our English abroad. Our employer supported the idea and promised to pay a part of the expenses. We wanted to go to England, but some friends said we should not go there, because the British Embassy is so unfair in issuing visas. We therefore decided to apply for visas to Ireland. We went through a very cumbersome and time-consuming process, but did not receive the visas. We had to stand in lines on the street for hours and hours. When we finally came in, we were subjected to interviews that we thought only the KGB did in the 1930s. They asked us for a lot of information on even our very intimate lives, and we had to collect a lot of documents, which we did, but, in the end, we did not receive the visas. I think that the only reason was that we are young Russian women and they have this prejudice that all young Russian women would be on the streets "waiting for somebody." In fact, the only time we have had to be on the street is when going through this humiliating process at the Irish Embassy. What do you think about this situation?

As a citizen of one of the countries of the European Union, Finland, I am of course very embarrassed for the treatment you were subjected to. It is a disgrace. My small comfort is that my own country is known for being much more civilized in these issues - but, then again, you cannot learn English there.

This is but one of the examples that show that the true inheritor of the dismantled Soviet Union is the European Union. George Orwell, in his wildest fantasies, could never have imagined procedures like those you were subjected to - at least not that they would happen on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

We are all well aware of the problems with receiving Russian visas and work permits. It should be noted, though, that there are two sides to the issue: On one hand, the process is very lengthy and cumbersome, but, on the other, the Russian government is very liberal and generous in actually issuing visas. Also, the Russian government does not put applicants through a humiliating process of interviews.

Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the EU countries. Russian nationals have to subject themselves to a rude, discriminatory and humiliating process at most of the EU embassies when applying for a visa. The applicants have to wait in lines on the street for hours - and often days - during various stages of the process. Many embassies practice a system of interviewing applicants, during which they have to provide proof on details of their lives (including the most intimate ones). (I wonder what an European national would say if he were subjected to such treatment in applying for a Russian visa.) The system and policies in use at most of the EU countries are especially discriminatory against young Russian women (but older men do not have any restrictions in traveling to Russia), which points to quite harsh discrimination that would never be applied toward their own citizens. These EU visa rules are also a hindrance to the development of trade between European countries and Russia.

The most serious consequence is that we, companies from European countries, suffer problems in arranging our own legal status in Russia. How can we lobby our interests to the Russian government when the situation is in fact much more discriminatory for Russians traveling to Europe than the other way around? I think therefore it is in the best interests of EBC members that the EBC, as well as lobbying the Russian government, also start to lobby the European Union and its member countries for them to ease visa restrictions. A first step would be to end the humiliation that Russians have to suffer at the hands of our embassies. I think the EBC should recognize this as an important aspect of fostering trade with Russia and as an essential step in convincing the Russian government to ease up on its own bureaucracy. We should also monitor the abuses that happen at the EU embassies.

I think that the foreign business community in Russia, through their interest organizations such as the EBC and the American Chamber of Commerce, should wake up to the challenge and put pressure on their governments to change this unfair treatment.

I am a consultant working for an international foreign corporation. Our corporation has an investment in Russia in a 50/50 joint venture. Now I have been sent to Russia to follow up on the issues with the joint venture. I have a valid visa, and I do not receive a salary in Russia, but I do not have a work permit. Do I need one?

You touch on a few very interesting issues. Let's first look at your assertion that you have a valid visa. You should note that a visa is issued for a specific purpose and a foreigner can only be in Russia engaged in activities that conform to the purposes for which the visa has been issued. If a third-party company has solicited the visa and you have been invited for business negotiations with this third party, then it would turn out that you, in fact, do not have a valid visa for the purpose of being engaged in the activities you mention. Please, check the details.

When it comes to taxes, you should note that, according to the Russian tax laws (the Tax Code), the decisive thing is not where you are paid, but in connection with what you are paid. If you are paid for doing something in Russia, then the Russian Tax Code considers that you earn a Russian "source income," for which you should pay tax in Russia. Possibly a relevant treaty on double taxation between your country of residence and Russia can relieve you of the tax.

As regards a work permit: Yes, strictly speaking, you need one. The law is construed in such a way that everybody working in Russia needs a work permit (i.e., the employer needs a permit to hire you). The law is not even quite clear when it draws a line between just being on a business trip and actually working in Russia. However, I would recommend that the company that you represent appoint you as a member of the board of the Russian company. This way, you can be in Russia without a work permit. Please, check the details with your legal counsel.

My Dutch employer has sent me to work for our Russian subsidiary - or, as they say, they have "seconded me to Russia." Do I need a work permit?

I am aware of many big international consultants advising clients to construct employment as secondment agreements. However, I would have to warn clients of trusting that advice. The thing is is that the Russian labor laws (the Labor Code and others) do not recognize the notion of "secondment": There simply is no such thing. All labor in Russia falls under the Russian labor law, which stipulates that the employer is the one with whom the person physically works.

The Tax Code does mention secondment agreements, but only in terms of stating that, if a foreign company has sent a person to work under a secondment agreement, then the foreign company does not become obliged to pay a profit tax for the activities of the person if he does not work for the foreign company. Apart from that, there is no "secondment": Work permits, taxation and everything else are the same as for any employee in a Russian company.

You should note that, as is no such thing as secondment in the sense that the big consultants advise, the foreign company sending the employee to Russia has to register with the Russian tax authorities and pay a social tax in Russia.

I am an American living in Moscow on a 90 day business visa. The agency I received the visa through does not have an office in Russia. When I attempted to register my visa within the initial three-day period, the New York agent informed me to simply go to register at a hotel. Is this O.K.?

Yes, this is so. Each time you come to Russia, you have to get registered with OVIR not later than three days after your arrival. Hotel services can usually provide this registration.

How does one go about getting a residency permit in Russia?

Foreign nationals who plan to stay in Russia more than six months a year for the next three years may want to consider applying for a temporary residency permit, especially if they are planning to work in Russia or register as individual entrepreneurs.

The issuance of a temporary residency permit for a foreign individual is subject to an annual government quota (90,000 for Moscow for 2003). An application for a temporary residence permit can be submitted both in Russia - to the local internal affairs authority at the place of future residency - as well as abroad - to a Russian diplomatic or consulary mission. A foreign citizen must personally submit the application. The application needs to be accompanied by a set of documents. I would suggest that you contact a consultant to determine the list of documents needed to be presented to the authorities in your particular case.

The term for consideration of the application may not exceed six months as of the date of its submission. If there are no reasons preventing the issuance of a temporary residency permit, the Internal Affairs Ministry will make the decision to issue the permit and inform the applicant within one month.

A temporary residency permit is made in a form of a stamp in the foreign national's passport and is valid for three years as of the date of the decision to grant it. If there are reasons preventing the issuance of a temporary residency permit, the Internal Affairs Ministry will reject the application and inform the applicant of the reasons. In case of rejection, another application may be made in one year's time.

The temporary residency permit must be received within three days of receiving the notice of its issuance. A foreign individual who is not in Russia has to receive the permit within three days of coming to Russia.

A foreign individual who receives a temporary residency permit is subject to mandatory state fingerprint registration. He is also subject to registration with the local Internal Affairs Ministry at his place of residence and annual re-registration thereafter. He also has to register with the local Internal Affairs Ministry at his place of residence in Russia within three days of receiving the temporary residency permit. The first registration will be done for a term of 12 months counting from the date of the decision to grant the temporary residency permit. The foreign individual has to apply for re-registration with the local Internal Affairs Ministry 30 days prior to the expiration of the current registration term.

A foreign individual who has a Russian temporary residency permit will need a temporary residency visa to enter and leave Russia. This visa is originally issued for four months on the basis of the decision of the Internal Affairs Ministry to grant the temporary residency permit and is extended for the entire term of the permit once the foreign national has obtained it.

During the term of the temporary residency and six months prior to its expiry, a foreign national may apply for permanent residency in Russia.

The advantages are as follows:
  1. Term of validity: It is for five years and may be extended for another five years an unlimited number of times;
  2. No visa requirement: The foreign national enters and leaves Russia on the basis of the permanent residency permit;
  3. No special requirements for changing residential address;
  4. No territorial employment restrictions: The foreign national may work anywhere in Russia, no matter where he resides.
The right to apply for permanent residency arises after the first year of temporary residency