Visas in question

Here is the news we got through a discussion group that missionaries share and post to for the city on Oct. 22nd (abbreviated):

The Moscow Times
New, Tougher Rules for Business Visas

By Alexander Osipovich
Staff Writer

The government is tightening the screws on foreigners who want to work here full time without a work visa — and itinerant English teachers look likely to be the first to feel the squeeze.

Multiple-entry business visas, which used to let foreigners stay in Russia for up to one year, will now only allow stays of up to 90 days at a time, according to a decree signed by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Oct. 4.

Under the new rules, such visas will still last one year. But they will only let people stay in Russia for up to 180 days of that year, and for no longer than 90 days at a time. Moreover, if a foreigner stays in Russia for 90 days straight, he or she is then required to leave and not come back until another 90 days have passed.

Zubkov’s decree also says foreigners might have to obtain the visas in their native countries — which implies that U.S. and British expatriates could no longer hop on the train to Kiev for a visa run. But representatives of visa agencies and foreign business lobbies were unsure how that rule would be implemented, and some said it might not apply to Westerners.

What is clear, however, is that expats can no longer stay in Russia endlessly by obtaining multiple-entry business visas and renewing them each year, said Alexei Filippenkov, director of the Visa Delight agency.
“Now, any foreigner who wants to come live here has to either go through the immigration process, and eventually obtain a residence permit, or else find an employer who will prepare a work visa for them,” Filippenkov said.

Foreigners with work visas are not affected by the change.

It is unclear whether the new rules will affect foreigners with multiple-entry business visas issued before Zubkov’s decree. But Filippenkov said it was unlikely.

Representatives of visa agencies had different takes on the provision in Zubkov’s decree about returning to one’s home country for a visa.

Filippenkov, of Visa Delight, said the provision about returning to one’s home country did not apply to Westerners and was instead directed at countries like China, Turkey and India.

Russian embassies are notoriously inconsistent in their approach to issuing visas. In the past, it has often taken several months to see how rule changes are implemented.

Zubkov’s decree puts Russia on the same footing as many Western countries, which also draw a distinction between visas designed for short visits and visas that grant one the right to work.

U.S. citizens who visit Britain, for example, are allowed to stay for up to six months, but they get a stamp in their passport stating they are prohibited from working there.

“The government is making things work the same way as they do in America and Europe,” Filippenkov said. Russian citizens face the exact same 90- and 180-day restrictions in Germany, he added.

Still, such comparisons have not reassured expats accustomed to the ease of obtaining multiple-entry business visas and daunted by the obstacles of getting Russian work permits.

“What will they think of next?” asked one visitor at RedTape.ru. “Shooting all foreigners? Might be quicker to get rid of us that way!”

© Copyright 2007 The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.

Since then, the confusion level among expats has been unprecedented. As The St. Petersburg Times reported:

“Foreigners in Russia will have to apply for visas in their home countries or in a country where they can stay 90 days or more, a Federal Migration service official said Monday.

The clarification came as government officials attempted to explain the restrictive new rules after foreign business associations were swamped with inquiries about the new system.

Puzzled company representatives packed out events held by the American Chamber of Commerce and Association of European Businesses on Monday, where officials spoke from the Foreign Ministry and Federal Migration Service.

Confusion has reigned among expatriates over an Oct. 4 decree issued by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov that shook up the application process and slashed the length of time foreigners can stay in Russia on multiple-entry business visas.”

Our teammates, the O’Byrnes, were originally composed about the changes. They have lived through so many changes and threatened changes that this seemed like no big deal. I think they are rethinking that now as reports from foreigners actually being given these kinds of visas roll in.

The woman who administers the visas for most missionaries in the city, Alla, herself a Christian, was also sanguine for a while. I think she is sobering too. I trust her to work hard at finding a solution for us, but as of last week, I’m now on proactive mode: I meet with a lawyer this week.

Please pray for God’s provision of direction for us.

Update, December 19th:
I’m feeling much more upbeat after my meeting with the lawyer. The laws are really supposed to be for EU citizens, but they just get applied to others who are in EU countries. So one solution, that appears to be working for now, is to send your visa application to the states for processing. Then you can get the full year visa, as always. Another option, that I still have not excluded, is applying for a three year, permanent residence status. This would allow us to stay the whole three years without a visa (I think) or needing to exit. The only trick is I have to either own real estate or have an official job. Both of these I want to do, but they are no simple tasks, to say the least.

Update, December 28th:
It now looks like we will even be penalized when we leave the country next month for our 6-month registration and forced to re-register after another three months. This is better than the potential of having to stay gone for three months, but I won’t feel safe until we get paper in hand.
I’ve made progress in having an official job, about which I will report later. At this point, I am leaning towards a more stable, long-term solution like a residency permit to the instability of a business visa.
Pray again for the housing situation. We may need to contemplate again a purchase at some point too – not only for the visa’s sake, but as a wise investment.

Update: February 5th:
We that the Lord that we were not penalized when we left in January. Even though it’s a 1 year visa, we had to leave after 6 months to re-register for some Russian reason. Some people were not getting the full 6 month re-registration. We did. Now we just have to decide what to do for next year, which starts at the end of July.
Our options appear to be 2: Get three-month visas every three months (money and time), or a work permit.
The trick is finding an employer and getting the permission, as there are maximums allowed by law. I have the former (more later). So we’ll see…

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