If you take travel costs into account and add on the cost of acquiring a work permit, getting a visa to live in Russia now costs thousands of dollars a year. Obtaining a residence permit, something that seemed to be just too much trouble to be worthwhile, suddenly makes a lot of sense, particularly when you factor in the fact that the ground rules for getting visas are changing, constantly. Images of long queues and tests for bizarre illnesses, however spring to mind when this subject is broached. Passport’s editor has now got a shiny new residence permit and is still alive to tell the tale; he outlines the main procedures in this article.
Text and photos John Harrison
Your first stop is the central “OVIR” (office for visa and registration) office on 42 Pokrovka Street (495) 207-41-34, between Kitai-Gorod or Chistyye Prudy metro stations. Here you will be told that there are two stages to the process of becoming a semi-naturalized citizen. Firstly you obtain a “temporary residence permit.” This is issued for three years, and during this time you can apply for a full residence permit. Full residence permits are valid for life, but you have to get it renewed every five years. Renewal involves confirming your address. So far so good. The catch is that if you are not married to a Russian, your application for a temporary residence permit will only be considered if you receive a place on a quota system. The quota is coming down: 600,000 in 2008, 250,000 in 2009 and quite likely no more than 150,000 in 2010. Mayor Yury Luzhkov has explained this as an attempt to: “ help different areas of the country to stimulate its own business.” If you are married to a Russian then you do not have to apply for a place under the quota system, so jump the next four paragraphs.
If you need to apply under the quota system, then the ladies at OVIR will give you an application form, which is called: “Заявление о выдаче Разрешения На Временное Проживание,” (declaration of the issuance of temporary residence status). This form contains the standard who are you questions, and examples of how to fill it in are usually to be found on the walls of OVIR. Despite the fact that the tax and immigration services are separate administrative departments, one official advised me that if you don’t have a work permit and are not paying taxes, then it is perhaps best to say you are not working. If you are working in a registered company that is licensed to employ foreigners, then a letter from that employer saying how vital you are to the company may help assure a place on the list, as will letters from dignitaries, heroes, the headmaster of your local school where you teach voluntarily... Migration service specialists also commented that reuniting with your family if you have children here, studying on a post-graduate program can help.
The declaration has to be filled out neatly; best by a Russian as it should be in perfect formal Russian, according to the examples pasted to the walls. Formal Russian differs from ordinary Russian. The form can also be typed out, but no e l e c t r o n i c versions are available, and unless you have an old-fashioned typewriter or dot-matrix printer, it is quite difficult to scan and print the document correctly. It is advisable to make a few photocopies of the form to practice on. Make friends with the official concerned and show him or her pencil practice variants before you submit the final version. Most migration service officials are overworked and the general stress levels in local government offices are pretty high. Various documents have to be attached to the declaration, and it is these documents which cause the most headaches:
A valid passport with at least 6 months to run translated into Russian and notarized, 4 photographs should be provided. A document from your home country stating whether or not you have a criminal record. A medical certificate, stating that you are not HIV positive, a document confirmed by your embassy/ recognized Russian government clinics that you are not an alcoholic, a leper, don’t have tuberculosis, syphilis, and VD. That’s all. If you are going round the clinics authorized by OVIR, then your first point of call will be the clinic that issues a medical certificate; but the tests are not all done there, they are done in a variety of different establishments around Moscow. Gathering all the right pieces of paper can take time. If you can afford it, AMC does all the tests for 20,000 rubles in four days; in comparison to a few hundred roubles and a couple of weeks, if you are not working, and probably considerably longer if you have a full-time job.
The completed form is handed in at the immigration office at Большая Ордынка, 16. Строение 4, [Bolshaya Ordinka 16, Str 4), and whether or not you are in the quota is declared during the first 10 days of the next month on a notice board at the same address. If you don’t make it one month you keep on applying until you are included.
Temporary Residence Permit
When you get your place on the quota, or you are married to a Russian, the work starts in earnest. This may be the start of a wave of marriages of convenience in reverse; foreigners marrying Russians to stay in the country. This time you apply from your local migration service office, the address of which you can establish from OVIR. This time the list of documents includes proof of your address, which basically means that if you are renting, a document stating that you are registered at a certain address. If you own a flat, then you need to produce certified copies of your ownership documents, and an all-clear from the local council office saying you don’t owe any money in community charges. You also need to prove that you able to support yourself, meaning money in the bank if you claim you are not working. I showed them a bank statement saying that I had 200,000 rubles in my account; no further questions were asked although this was a few years ago. If you state you are working, then you will need to submit tax documents.
If you are doing all the footwork yourself, my advice is to allow yourself three visits to a particular establishment for each document. One day to find the office and make sure that you are familiar with opening times, charges etc, than another day to actually get the test or whatever it is done, and another day to pick up the final document. If you are working, if you manage to get one document a week, you are doing well, and you need about 15 documents.
Once you have submitted all documents, you will be given your temporary residence permit within 6 months. It is quite difficult getting all the right documents and filling in the forms correctly, so hearsay has it that if they accept your documents you are likely to be given the permit, that is unless you are covering up aspects of your past or present life which may make applying for residence status in Russia difficul
Then the big day comes when a stamp is put in your passport giving you the right to live in Russia for three years. This is not a work permit, you have to get the full permit to get that.
Full Residence Permit
To apply for full residence status means that you should stay in Russia for most of the time for the year previous to your application, whilst on temporary residence status. It is difficult to explain to any immigration officer in the world why you want to be resident if you are not in the country you are applying to live in for very long.
Long-time Moscow resident Stephen Laperouse starts the application procedure at OVIR
The big inconvenience about temporary residence status is that every time you leave Russia you need to get an exit visa, which is also a re-entry visa. This takes 5 working days and costs 400 roubles. However this is not as inconvenient as it may seem. Application for the next exit visa can be made the day after you arrive in the country, and you can come back any time before the three-year temporary residence permit expires. If you get to OVIR; where the visa applications are made early in the morning, there are less people queuing up and the whole procedure becomes routine.
You need to prove that you have a place to live. This means that if you don’t own your own flat, you have to not only get the landlord to register you as a temporary resident, but also to sign a piece of paper saying that he or she is not against you residing there permanently, something that landlords won’t do. So in fact you need to have your own place or know somebody who will basically allow you to be registered indefinitely in their flat. Ideal if you are married to a Russian (with a flat) or have bought your own property here.
The full permit is a de facto Russian passport, although you cannot vote. You can use it to come and go from Russia as many times as you like, get credit to buy a car and so on. It is a separate document from your passport and does not affect your own citizenship in any way.
In all, obtaining a full residence permit is time consuming, and to be honest, emotionally stressful. Be this as it may, times are achanging here in Russia, and have been for a while.