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The Bottom Line

Foreign Passport holders should read this!

Vyacheslav Postavnin, Deputy Head of the Federal Migration Service, was the featured speaker at an AmCham briefing on Feb. 8. He spoke to a capacity audience of 250 members about the recent changes in the Russian Federation's migration law. Passport was there to glean the latest on the registration process which has led to widespread confusion in its application.

The 250 nervous and confused ex-pats and Russians (who work for companies employing ex-pats) gathered to hear about the new rules that were enacted in mid-January relating to city registration of visas. During Soviet times in order to monitor, control and discourage free movement, a system of registration was established whereby Soviet citizens were required to register if they moved to a new location. Russian’s still had to do that up until last year. The rule that was abolished last year meant that Russians traveling from, say, Tver or St Petersburg to Moscow could stay up to three business days and if they stayed longer they had to register with local authorities a document confirming they were staying in someone’s apartment (it had to be in a landlord’s apartment not in a tenant’s apartment), or in a hotel. According to the revised law of last year that period is now three months for Russians, but still remains three working days for foreigners. So a Russian could come to Moscow from another city for two months and 29 days, take a one day trip to a city 100 kilometers from Moscow by train and return, and then would reset the clock for another 3 months. Some claim that the easing of the restriction for Russians is one reason that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Moscow inhabitants. The latest traffic swells are testimony of this new rule.

The new legislation basically regulates foreigners in Russia, their entry, their exit, and their right to work here.

While the three day rule still applies to foreigners, some would argue that foreigners now have a more simplified procedure to register upon arrival. According to the old system, when you arrived in a city you would have to submit your original passport through the “inviting agency” along with some forms filled out by the landlord’s local counsel housing authority affirming that the landlord paid their water bill. Two weeks would often pass and the passport would have a few more stamps indicating that the foreigner was now registered in that city. That was rather troublesome, especially for those who traveled frequently. Now, according to the new so called “simplified rules”, this registration is possible in the post office or at a local immigration office. The new regulations are not shy of teething pains as frustrated meeting participants let Mr Postavnin know at the AmCham event. The event was quite timely as it was held on a sort of emergency short notice basis, a mere one week after the enactment of some of the new regulations. As the new rules were hardly understandable to anyone, all those who tried to leave the country or comply with the new system were very frustrated. This frustration was loudly vented at the meeting and Mr Postavnin and even Mr Somers were being attacked and criticized from all sides. The official was not the drafter of the new rules but was receiving the brunt of all complaints. He offered anyone to send a fax to his office with specific questions and complaints and that his office would try to address them. One attendee which did not attack either the Minister or Mr Somers went so far as to spend over five minutes to thank and recognize the courage of Mr Postavnin for being brave enough to answer hard questions and respond to harsh criticism of the new regime.

A transcript of the meeting is available from the chamber’s web site

At the end of the day it appears that even if in the short term the procedure is not clear to all administrative personnel, that once all the dust settles foreigners will no longer have to submit their original passport for two weeks. It now seems that certain paperwork will suffice and a new “card” will be provided that has to be returned to the issuing immigration authority when leaving the city or the country. It is advisable however to keep at least a copy of this card. The bottom line is that the system has now shifted from a paper and stamping system to a national database which will track everyone’s movements. Although it seems more Orwellian, it really should make everyone’s life a lot simpler in the long term. One of the other main differences is that according to the prior practice it seems that the immigration card and city registration stamps were only relevant if one was “carded” on the street; whereas the airport was only concerned if the exiting passport holder had a valid nonexpired visa and a valid entry stamp; even to the extent that the airport officials would not be bothered if there was an absence of an immigration card. It seems that according to most local legal experts, that exiting foreigners were not checked to see if they were properly registered in the various cities that they traveled as of the date of entry into Russia. According to the new system however, it appears that the computer will show the exiting passport checker if the foreigner had a good and clean chain of title (ie didn’t have any “city registration gaps” during their Russian sojourn).

All Passport Magazine readers and foreign passport holders are hereby advised to pay close attention to the new rules, keep a watch on the local press, and ask their legal advisers about any upcoming changes; and, most of all, do not allow any registration gaps as this may result in fines or administrative violations.

For visitors ‘on the move’ Timur Beslangurov, the managing partner of Vista Foreign Business Support and an immigration lawyer, points out that the new rules require your registration only if you are in a city for more than three working days. If you stay on the move visiting Moscow and St Petersburg and even another provincial city, never spend more than three working days in each then you don’t have to register at all!

VFBS has prepared an intelligent and helpful practical interpretation of the new legislation and how it is applied. This is available on their website at

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