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Work Permit Issues
By Timur Beslangurov
Managing Partner
VISTA Foreign Business Support

Timur Beslangurov

he migration policy of the Russian Federation, like the migration policies of most countries, regulates the number of people able to travel to, and work in, Russia so as to guarantee national security, protect indigenous labour resources and encourage economic growth. Fair enough. However policies are not consistent, and are implemented sporadically. Foreign businesses need a stable legislative base, but as far as migration policies go, there is little stability.

There are aspects of the migration law which seem illogical. For example, employers of low-qualified workers are not required to attain permission to employ workers, but work permits can be refused to well-qualified specialists if their jobs can be done by Russians. Thus we have mass unemployment in Russia, and millions of low-qualified migrant workers doing the jobs of Russians.

Only one category of foreigners actually benefi ts from being subjugated to the work permit rule; foreigners who are hired by a Russian legal entity which has a contract with a foreign company. Most foreigners working in Russia actually prefer to remain the employees of the foreign company (so as preserve social, medical insurance and pension). Having to get a work permit to work in Russia helps them to preserve that status.

Sportsmen, actors, and actresses coming to film shoots, singers, musicians and circus performers who come to Russia for a particular shoot, performance or series of performances all need permits. Frequently they have to cancel their shows or shoots because it takes too long to get the permit and visa. Procedures need to be changed so that all documents can be prepared and issued within one month, maximum.

The situation for investors is absurd. By law, foreign investors have the right of temporary residence in Russia. However it is not clear who exactly a foreign investor is, because neither the sum of the investments being made nor the nature of the investment is specified. On the basis of what happens in other countries, we suggest that the following changes be made in current law: foreigners who invest no less than $300,000 and who create no less than five jobs for Russian citizens should have the right to obtain a temporary residence permit, and be able to work without the need for any specifi c work permit. It is difficult for a foreigner who has created a company in Russia to obtain a work permit under the quota system unless he or she is married to a Russian and the application is made on the grounds of family considerations. The length of time involved in making the application is unreasonable, and the process complex. Thus an investor who creates jobs for Russians, is unable to stay in Russia to control his investment because he cannot get a work permit from his own company, because he can only do that if he can proves that his own job cannot be replaced with an unemployed Russian citizen. He also has to have a degree.

At present, work permits are issued under a quota system. Employers inform the migration authorities about the number of permits they need for the next year. If a company cannot predict accurately how many foreigners will be needed, any additional applications will probably be rejected. A whole series of companies who made declarations about needing foreign workers in 2010 have recently been requested to reduce the number of foreign workers which they plan to hire in 2010, or have been informed that they are no longer able to hire foreigners. This situation creates a negative resonance in employers who are hiring foreigners to work in Russia.

With all due respect to the migration authorities, I would like to point out that companies hire foreigners because they need to hire them. The refusal or acceptance of foreigners should be decided by the merit of each individual company and its needs, not by a changing quota system.

In general, obtaining all necessary documents to apply for work permits is difficult, and time-consuming, especially when additional documents are required. The introduction of a requirement a decade ago that applicants have a degree has caused problems, as many foreign who have considerable experience (15-20 years) do not have a higher education. In September, this requirement was made more complex because migration officials started demanding that diplomas be submitted with an apostille. Foreign white-collar workers now have to go back to their native countries to arrange these stamps.

Not only are work permits needed, visas are also required to enter and leave Russia. Representatives of foreign companies are not allowed to request business visas for their foreign colleagues, they can only be mediators. Visas need to be registered each time a foreigner arrives and leaves, creating a huge overload of work both for companies and for the migration services.

Last but not least, according to current legislation, business trips within the Russian federation cannot exceed 10 calendar days a year. An increase to 60 days is possible but only if in the labour contract concerned demands such travelling, and such status relates to only a limited number of jobs.

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