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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Third Round to Stephen Lapeyrouse
Part III in Passport’s series of articles on obtaining a residence permit in Russia
Text by Stephen Lapeyrouse and John Harrison

n previous articles, we covered the whole procedure of applying to get on the quota for a temporary residence permit (the “”); which is the first stage in being granted full residency status. In this article our brave hero Stephen Lapeyrouse triumphantly receives the legal status of temporary resident.

“When I found out last spring that I was on the list of people who were eligible to apply for a temporary residence permit under the quota system, I was happily surprised. It was an effort to gather all the papers for the application in the first place and then I had to file all the required papers within the statutory two months, but it was not as bad as I had expected. However, it seemed clear that if they accepted and filed your papers in their computer as a “case”, and you didn’t have a criminal record that you hadn’t told them about, that you would get the “”, the temporary residence status, in, as I was told, 4-6 months. I was told I would be contacted by phone or email, but after 5 months had gone by and I hadn’t heard anything, I went down to the central ‘Foreigners Migration Office’ (FMS) at Pokrovka to find out what was going on.

“‘Yes, we have confirmation that you have been accepted to receive the ,’ the surprisingly-attractive young woman behind the window said with a smile. I wanted to say: ‘Right, well, why wasn’t I contacted as I was told I would be?’ But thought better of possibly disturbing the process at this late stage. ‘But you need to have your fingerprints done,’ she added. I said: ‘Oh, Ok, fine; how and where?’ ‘Just there in that room’ as she pointed at a door, ‘but in two days; their schedule is on the door.’

“And though I of course came back on that day, and at the opening hour, no employees graced this room with their working presence for an hour and a half after it was to have opened. Still, I was first in a line of only three persons waiting. Eventually, after I and a woman had asked the security woman thrice if someone was going to come at all, I was led into a small room no larger than two by two metres, and suddenly I was back in the USSR. The walls were still painted that sick green colour apparently rather widespread then. At first he, an approximately 32-year-old guy who looked like a university graduate but with a characteristically ‘huge attitude’, handed me two blanks and instructed me to leave the room and fill them out. He also asked if I had some wet paper with me; a bit perplexed, I said no, and he said he ‘had only toilet paper’. I had to fill out the forms in Russian of course, twice, due to a small mistake the first time. Then he took the papers I had, and indicated to me get my hands ready. This time he did not so much as utter a single word to me, even though I tried to make some friendly chat with him. There was an old large wooden box with a drawer and on it a small metal plate in a top corner. He poured some black ink onto it, took a roller – the kind that you use to paint up lino-cuts – rolled some paint on it, and proceeded to roll it over all my finger tips. BLACK ink. He then firmly pressed each finger tip into a separate box on the special forms – duplicates. But that wasn’t all – not at all! He then inked up the – what are they called? – the ‘lengths’ of my fingers, and then, pushing them all together, pressed each hand’s fingers down to put finger (not finger tip) prints into the appropriate boxes on the forms. Then he did my palms! When it was all over my hands were covered in black ink. He at least nodded yes when I asked, “Eto vsyo?” (Is that all?).

“He handed me a small wad of toilet paper; but there was no water closet available for the likes of me. So – back now in the large room, where some 40 people were applying at the various windows for this and that – I could only try to use spit and the toilet paper to clean my hands, which didn’t really do much with this dark, thick ink. (Not sure what the other people standing around thought of me.)

“Since the first time I was in Russia in 1986, here now again in October 2009 I had stepped back into the USSR in that small room, and in the attitudes of the staff that were little changed! All the required medical checks that I had had to do to apply for the were done in pretty clean, uncrowded, even nice surroundings, and using mostly modern equipment. But this stage of the process was unfriendly and indifferent. Soviet in the post-Soviet time.

“Anyway, before trying to leave for a restroom (which to enter now costs about a buck!) at the nearby Atrium Shopping Centre, so that I could try to scrub my hands clean, I went to the next FMS window to get the document saying I could have temporary registration. At that window, where a screaming, crying argument with a woman from Ukraine had just happened before my eyes because she had used an abbreviation in two insignificant places on her 4-page application, and she would need to rewrite it all again, and after hearing the FMS woman behind the window discussing for about 5 minutes on the phone the best shopping locations with her mother, I was told that I (not their incorrect information) had made a mistake, and I had to go to a different FMS office, the one for my area of Moscow (and btw do the hand printing process again!). It seems they hadn’t checked their paperwork clearly, or maybe they did, but still got it wrong. So that was an irritating, wasted morning, and I had the uselessly blackened hands and dark mood to prove it.

“I went to the FMS in my region of Moscow at my next available chance, and made a good move by asking the head of the office, the Nachalnik, where to get the hand-printing done, and receive my . He immediately went and spoke to the man who had handled my papers in May, and this mediation got me good and quick attention! But this officer – Alexander was his name – only gave me the official letter (needed in the next stage to register at a different FMS office and police desk located near my apartment), and set up an appointment time the next week to do the hand-printing, and receive the coveted stamp! I was also given a list of required items to bring with me to the appointment: a xerox of the main passport page; a copy of the official document (which they had just given to me!); a handy-wipes pack; a black, “gel” (not ball point) ink pin; and medical gloves! ‘Ok; whatever you say!’

“So, a few days later, I went back to this regional FMS office (in my case 45 minutes by train away). I had prepped much of the morning to have everything in unrejectable order: I had the papers of course (plus others just in case!), handy wipes, gloves, and even a bottle of water, all the required items. The conditions at this local office were better and friendlier. (They seem to have remembered me from May, when I had almost cheered when they accepted my apostille; then I had been the last person of their workday, and I and the staff in a room chatted about Obama and life in Russia and America. We were laughing and joking.) This time the woman who rolled ink onto my hands said to me: ‘Probably you don’t do this in this way in your country?’ I tried to be polite and said: ‘No, we have a different system.’ I joked asking if she was an artist. She laughed, and clearly seemed to realize the absurdity of this dated inking procedure – she was also required, wearing the glove I had bought and brought, to do this dirty work. It took me a full five minutes to get the ink off my hands – but I didn’t need to use spittle; and the woman waited patiently, and with understanding!” [When John Harrison went through this stage of the residence permit in 2008, no finger, hand or prints of any parts of the body were necessary; so the rules seem to change a lot, and it is perhaps not always the officers’ fault that they don’t know what they are.]

“No lamination, no bar codes, no modern high-tech anything. An ink stamp-form was put on a full page in my passport, and my information was handwritten onto it. I wasn’t sure what decade I was in. But then, sent into another room for what turned out to be just 30 seconds, a bored-looking officer in uniform stamped this same passport page with some crucial red Russian seal. I felt relieved, and almost happy. Almost…

“After that I needed to take the official paper (they had kept the copy I had been required to make of the document they gave me!) and my passport which said I had temporary residence status, and I had to go to my local passport office (Passortni Stol, near my apartment) to register and get that magical registration stamp in my passport that says I can live here for three years. (During this time I can then apply to get the full residence permit it seems). To register I had to give them: a translated, notarised copy of my passport, the original official paper from the regional FMS office, a letter from the landlord (or in my case flat ownership) document copies. This all had to be notarized there on site; it cost nothing and was done fairly quickly – about two hours in the process, mostly just waiting. Then I was off to the nearby police desk (an unrepaired aging Soviet-era building), and one final ‘chief’, who took the latest stack of documents (about 6), and filled in my registration stamp!

“I had it, finally done, and I texted several friends of my ‘victory’! It had taken about 9 months from start to finish, but it was done. (I won? Some of my Russian friends in their text replies wondered!)

“Now somewhat unexpectedly – in the course of an hour, actually less but it took about an hour for it to sink in – my Russian life and world had changed. It was a completely different feeling. I no longer felt that I was here temporarily, and that I must get out by x-date, and then attempt to get back in at some consulate in one country or another. Now I need to get an exit visa, to get out and back in! But I could stay for 3 full years if I wanted.”

The next article will cover the little issue of how to get out of Russia when you have temporary residence permit status.

Stephen recommends – though he supposes conditions will vary at the various FMS offices, stages of the process, and with each FMS officer and their moods – more-than-“Western” patience and persistence and especially carrying around with you to all these various offices in the various stages of this ‘obstacle course’, all of the documents you think you will need, and also those you don’t think you will need, and copies of most of them, just in case. This can save time and irritation when you are suddenly asked for a piece of paper which you were not asked to have ready, particularly as Russian offices aren’t often inclined reliable accuracy and to doing photocopies for you. Stephen says he cannot imagine anyone being able to do this whole process who does not speak at least basic Russian, or who does not have someone to help them at each step and meeting. Also, be prepared to go back to the Soviet Union from time to time in the process. Good luck!

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