Russia’s New Migration Law

If you’ve ever been to Russia, and you stay with friends or in a private residence, you know what a pain in the ass it is to register. The process required getting a letter from the person who owns the apartment, take it to OVIR, and wait in line. If an inviting organization does the procedure for you it can take up to 10 days to get your passport back. When I was in Moscow in October, it took two weeks to get my passport back. Granted, I was registering illegally since the owners of the apartment I stayed in didn’t want anything to do with the registration process. My registration was done the very Russian way—a friend of a friend of a friend who knew some babushka who worked in OVIR. She probably had 50 people registered at her apartment and making a good profit in doing it. Thank god for blat. Thankfully, I didn’t get stopped and had to pay no fines. These days, white skin goes a long way in Russia.

On January 15, 2007 new laws on registration went into effect with the intent of simplifying this process. Full text of the law can be found here. The law mostly addresses issues of monitoring immigrant labor, which according to Daniel Sershen of the Moscow Times are “overdue.” The law expands quotas for immigrant labor and levies fines up to $30,000 to business who don’t keep track of their foreign employees. Unfortunately, the law is not without its racist elements.

Xenophobia and political considerations have determined some aspects of the new policy, and the results will hurt both Russia and the countries from which most of the migrant workers come.

The market ban is part of a trend of growing intolerance; a populist move intended to placate elements in society that would rather have immigrants out of sight and mind. Moreover, if fully enforced, it would lead to higher prices in many markets, as employers switch from migrants to more costly domestic labor. Even now, markets have curtailed activities and even closed in some cities, the public relations manager for the Tsentraziya migrant support group, Nurbek Atambayev, said last week.

Moreover, the law impacts tourists and those who travel to Russia on business. As the Moscow News explains,

The new law is essentially different from the old in that foreigners have to formally notify migration authorities, instead of waiting for permission to get registered. In practice this means that within three days of arrival, the host of the foreigner – the owner of the apartment, or the head of a company that invited him – fills out a form stating the guest’s identity, purpose of stay, occupation, passport information, his home address, and his migration card (which the foreigner obtains separately upon entering the country). By law, the host then takes this form, together with a receipt for a government fee, to the nearest local Federal Migration Service office (traditionally known as OVIR). An official keeps the top part of the form, and the visiting foreigner is left with the bottom half. That’s his proof that he’s notified the authorities.

Like most changes in Russian law, those who have to actually enforce them are left confused. It seems that local officials are unsure about the law and are unwilling to sway from standard procedure. As one anonymous source told the Moscow News, “So far, [all these new procedures] are not envisaged by anything. We’re waiting for an official enactment from the government. It was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 15, but so far it doesn’t exactly exist.” Or as Alexei Filipenkov, deputy chairman of Association of European Businesses’ visa task force complained to the St. Petersburg Times, “Nobody knows what is going on. I ask one migration official what to do, and he tells me one thing. On the same day I go to another official, and they tell me something completely different. Nobody knows what is going on because the rules are constantly being changed.”

Does anyone know how all this is supposed to work?