Residence Permits – Only for the Determined!
More and more expats are considering applying for residence permits in Russia. Be prepared to fight your way through a tortuous, time consuming process, littered with bureaucratic obstacles. Finding someone to advise on the process is a major problem.
Passport and Visa department offices on Pokrovka
Peter Reinhardt, partner, Human Capital at Ernst & Young, has never encountered a foreigner seeking a residence permit.
Jamison Firestone, the head of Firestone Duncan says, ”There aren’t many people who really understand the residency permit process because there is a lot less demand for it in the foreign community than for work permits. Most expats came to Russia to work for one particular company and are not planning on staying after their current job ends. Service providers go to where the demand is.”
Given that the process could take anything up to a year to complete (and that’s just the first phase, temporary residency, TRP) why bother?
Only with a TRP or full residency permit can you register as an independent entrepreneur and apply the small business tax rate. From day one of registration your tax would be cut to 6%. Once you have a full residency permit here then you can travel in and out without a visa. You can work where you like, for whom you like, and change your place of domicile and job at will. You have the same opportunities as a Russian for long-term credit. Let’s face it, if you have a three year Work Visa and Work Permit, then no bank is going to give you a 20-year credit on a property deal.
Quota or Non-Quota
Obtaining a temporary residency permit (TRP) is an essential first stage in obtaining a permanent residence permit.
TRP’s are issued either on a quota basis or non-quota. The non-quota TRPs are issued to foreigners on a number of grounds including that they were born in the USSR and had USSR citizenship, were born in the Russian Federation, are married to a Russian resident here or they are investing in Russia. The most common grounds are marriage to a Russian.
The quota basis is a bit like the US Green Card immigration system, but less restricted. Anyone can apply from inside or outside Russia, irrespective of work experience, qualifications, etc. There is an annual quota and this quota is allocated between the different regions of Russia. Out of the 90,000 quota for 2005, Moscow (which is its own federal subject) has a quota of 1,000. The Moscow Oblast has 6,300.
Firestone, the US attorney, has done it for himself and many of his clients. He says,” The residency permit process makes getting a work permit (See September 2005 issue of PASSPORT) look like child’s play. If you do this yourself you had better have a very flexible work schedule and a lot of time on your hands. Best to call in someone who has done this before, even then it won’t go smoothly, but it won’t turn your life upside down either.”
There are 15 documents required in support of a TRP application. The one that could take you the most time to produce is from the appropriate police authority in your home country, or country of permanent residence, stating you have no criminal record. This needs to be apostilled in your home country.
Get the documents and prepare an application in Russian. Submit the application to the Passport and Visa Department (PVU) Office on Ordinka for a preliminary review.
When PVU accepts the application, you receive a ‘spravka’ to take medical tests (from AIDS to Leprosy) in approved state clinics. Submit the application again with all the documents and medical results to the PVU office on Pokrovka. Then be prepared to wait 6 months.
“If this sounds complicated, it’s actually far worse,” says Firestone. Getting the documents will probably take six months, because you have to get an apostilled proof of no criminal record from home and provide a lot of other information in the application. When you submit the application to PVU, they review it. Your documents are never in order on the first try. The line to submit documents for application review starts forming at about four in the morning. Even if you have submitted applications for 10 people and they were all the same there is always something that the person at the window will find lacking. When you correct it there will be someone at the window next time who has different ideas about what you need. Eventually they will tell you that you are ready to take the medical tests and they will give you the magic spravka so you can begin. Then you go get the tests.
A TRP is valid for three years. After one year you can change it to a full residence permit giving you all the rights mentioned above.
TRP allows you to work only in the region where you live and obtain the permit (which must be the same). If you live in Moscow Region you can’t legally work in Moscow, until you have a full residency permit.
You need an exit/entry visa to leave Russia and return. You can apply for a new visa every time you return to Russia. They take up to 21 days to obtain are valid until used, or for the duration of the TRP. Yes it really can take three weeks to get an exit/entry visa. If you cry and roll around on the floor and make a nuisance of yourself you can sometimes get it in three days, but no promises. The law allows them up to 21 days. “They are a truly ‘Soviet’ organization complete with people sneaking flasks of vodka back to their cubby holes and their co workers joining them for endless three minute vodka and cigarette breaks while desperate people queue at their doors,” said one professional, on condition of anonymity, citing that he had to “deal with these people every day.” If you are out of Russia for 183 days in a year, you lose the TRP.
Getting an application can even be a problem. The editor of this magazine, long time resident here and married to a Russian has been bouncing between different departments for four months without success. His experience is that the registration offices disputed who had the authority to issue the application – the central district office, where he was registered or a suburb of Moscow where his wife had registration. In fact, both the Moscow offices of the PVU should give you the form on demand.
The documents supporting a completed application should include the lease contract for the address where you propose to be registered, certificate of ownership, extract from the house ledger, apartment financial statement and written consent from all registered owners of the apartment certified by a Russian notary.
Firestone says another complication is “To get the tests you have to be registered where you live. The registration in your passport may not satisfy the clinics, so you end up going back to the militia and getting a stamp on your registration in a form that is acceptable to the clinic. Then you take the tests. All takes time.
“Then you submit the final application with the medical spravkas at PVU on Pokrovka. Then they review it and it takes as long as it takes. In my case my reviewing officer got sick for months. The law says 6 months, if they are late, what do you want to do? Sue the people who have your life in their hands?
“Budget a year from when you submit your documents and once you get the green light to take the tests, run like the wind and get it all done ASAP and submit your documents to PVU on Pokrovka (so that you make the quota). Then wait, and wait, and wait.
With tighter controls being applied to ensure foreigners comply with immigration laws, Firestone assumes that “next year there will be a lot more applicants than there were this year and it would not surprise me if the quota runs out”.
The article on Work Permits last month should have made clear that the $600 -$1,000 is the rock bottom cost of buying an off-the-shelf company without the cost of obtaining the work permit. To set up your own company from scratch with attention to shareholder and management issues will cost considerably more. To set up a foreign company with a branch or representative office, don’t expect change from $10,000.