We tried our best… Changes in the situation for foreign citizens in the Russian Federation
The long-awaited, radical positive changes to the situation for foreign citizens were due to take place on 15 January 2007. On this day two new laws came into force, which were adopted on 18 July 2006; “On the migration registration of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Russian Federation” and “On the legal situation for foreign citizens in the Russian Federation”. It did not quite turn out as expected.
1. Migration registration
The first law has introduced a system of registration for foreign citizens, which does not include any right of refusal by the authorities. The law requires any foreign citizen legally present on the territory of the Russian Federation to send an application form informing the authorities of his presence in Russia within three days of his arrival. This can be done in person or can be sent by post using a special form from the post office. There is a tear-off section that needs to be stamped at the post office.
A foreign citizen can apply to be registered either at a place of residence or a workplace. The notification has to be referenced by the landlord (rental agreement) or the employer (contract of employment). This record, which replaces registration (propiska) practically removes the propiska regime and as such must be welcomed.
Recent experience shows that law enforcement officials still stop people on the streets and ask to see their passports and the migration cards, which foreign citizens receive upon crossing the border and stamped application forms. Thus, the same practice of verification of documents by the law enforcement officials continues to occur – illegally and without foundation.
2. Temporary residence permits
The second law should have improved the situation for CIS citizens who have the right to travel to Russia without visas, (which means with the exception of citizens of Georgia and Turkmenistan).
For these people, the system of temporary residence permits is much simpler. Applicants are required to submit fewer documents:
After a month CIS citizens are required to submit proof of being free from infectious and drug-related illnesses. It is then only one year after arrival in the Russian Federation that a person is required to submit a document certifying they are a taxpayer. This is very important as up until now applicants have had to submit all the necessary documentation to prove he or she was able to support him/herself and dependants with the original application. Medical certificates quickly expired. It was difficult or illegal to find well-paid work before receiving temporary residence status and without work no one had the required amount of savings (hundreds of thousands of roubles) in the bank to prove self-sufficiency.
In addition, after three months any CIS citizen who had arrived with no visa was required to leave Russia and return again simply in order to receive a new migration card, but it took 6 months for a decision on the application for status to be made. Now an application for temporary residence allows a person to extend their stay in the Russian Federation on the basis of the old migration card.
In addition, quotas for the receipt of temporary residence permits and rights to work were due to be abolished. The latter did not occur. At the end of December the Duma passed the “Amendments to amendments” on the law on foreign citizens, re-establishing quotas. On 6 January 2007 the President signed this law. In a sense, in doing so he undermined the achievements of the previous law and even did damage to the original law “On the Legal Situation for foreign citizens” of 2002.
Article 13.4 pf the old law decreed
“A foreign citizen has the right to work only if he has a work permit. This does not apply to foreign citizens who
1) permanently reside in the Russian Federation
2) temporarily reside in the Russian Federation (ie who have temporary residence permits)
However, point 2) has now been amended to refer not to those with temporary residence permits but only to those “ who belong to government programmes of support for voluntary resettlement to the Russian Federation of compatriots living abroad and their families returning with them to the Russian Federation.”
In this way a strange situation has arisen, whereby a foreign citizen can receive the right to stay for 3 years in the Russian Federation but does not have the right to work. This means that they either have to be supported by someone else or have enough savings to live on for this time. What rich people we must be expecting to arrive under the resettlement programme, which has not yet begun!
3. The Right to Work
Changes to the law “On the Legal Situation for foreign citizens” greatly simplified the procedure of obtaining the right to work. As mentioned above, the December amendments reintroduced work quotas. In 2007 the quota for work places is 6 million for the whole of the Russian Federation, including those who already work here.
However, it has remained easier for those who do travel to Russia on a visa-free regime and everyone has hurried to obtain the right to work.
Work permits are given by the FMS or the regional migration services after a simple application procedure and on submission of the following documents:
Applicants would receive a reply within 10 days, and have the right to appeal a refusal. This is, of course, great progress.
At the end of 2006 there was concern amongst the authorities of many regions as the new simplified system was to come into force on 15 January. Fierce discussions and disputes took place, which led to the Government order of 15 November 2006, No. 683 “On the introduction of quotas for foreign workers, agricultural workers and traders in the Russian Federation for 2007”.
The decree forbade foreigners from selling alcohol including beer and pharmaceutical products. The quotas for foreign traders in markets, kiosks was set at no more than 40% and was to be reduced to 0% by April 2007.
Thus, this decree completely undermined the positive changes introduced in the legislation for foreign citizens, as many of them work as traders and in some regions constitute over 90% of the market traders.
It is important to note that this decree does not affect all foreign citizens but only foreign workers, ie. Foreign citizens temporarily living in the Russian Federation. People who have residence documentation (vid na zhitelstvo), temporary residence permits and officially recognized refugees.
4. Evaluation of the changes and their consequences.
One of the basic criticisms of the new registration system is the possibility of registering foreign citizens at their place of work, and not at their place of residence. This causes concern that employers will now not provide their workers with satisfactory living accommodation. This situation already existed de-facto, and now it exists de-jure.
The Moscow authorities are especially critical of this new system: defenders of the new system insist that they are upholding the right of the employer to house workers in conditions which are not fit for accommodation; in veneer sheds on building sites, in cardboard boxes at the markets or in cellars of illegally functioning sewing workshops. At first glance, this is fair – all the above occur at present. But here is the real advantage of the new system, that now the person held responsible for this is not the defenceless worker, but the employer.
In recent years Moscow has been built almost exclusively by the slave labour of illegal workers, living in inhuman conditions and receiving pitiful wages for their work, sometimes not receiving any wages at all. When workers try to defend their rights a police officer arrive and, confirming that they have no registration or work permit charges them with a criminal offence and then without delay the court rules they should be deported from Russia. Their places are taken by new slaves from the endless army of unemployed Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Moldovans who are ready, in return for a pittance, to ensure that the building companies make good profits.
Now the police officer or sanitary inspector, arriving on the building site for an inspection, meets a worker who is not obliged to run away or to hide in the cellar. The worker simply needs to obtain a laminated card certifying the right to work, which is issued irrespective of the employer (see below) and a tear off voucher certifying that he is on the migration register. The responsibility remains with the employer, who can be asked to provide evidence of respecting all required standards by the government labour department, tax inspectors and sanitary inspectors. And the legalised foreign worker is able to appeal to court in defence of his rights without fearing deportation from the territory of the Russian Federation.
Of course, there are many obstacles in the way of normalisation of the standards for foreign workers in Russia, not least the active opposition of employers who have been used to employing people under slave like conditions. But it should be acknowledged that the new law has brought the reality of the situation to light, whereas in the past it was well hidden.
As for the policy of expulsion of foreign workers from markets and the introduction of quotas for our former compatriots, it is illogical and dangerous not only to the foreign workers but also the local population. The market is (oáåäíÿåòñÿ), sharply in some regions. If the Chinese leave the markets in the Far East, they would be reduced by 50% today, and by the first of April another 40%. Concerns about the Chinese packing their bags exist among local populations, the administration of markets and administration of íàñåëåííûõ ïóíêòîâ.
Where will the consumers go? He will have to go to the shops where the price of food products, clothing and shoes is 2-3 times higher than in the markets. Krasnodar Kray, having thrown out its Meskhetian Turks, who were resettled to America, has already suffered from a rise in prices of fruit and vegetables. They were grown on the Kubansky soil by the Turks, who have now left and not been replaced. The soil remains untilled. In her article “Can’t the locals speak Turkish?” published in July 2006 in the newspaper “Novorossisky Rabochi” the author Olga Potapova writes about the empty rows in the market places and the severe price increases in fruit and vegetables which are now being imported from Israel.
It seems that the local Kazaks are not willing to exchange sabres and whips for hoes and spades. One gets the impression that the only ones to benefit are the owners of supermarkets and traders in alcohol and medicine. Was it them who initiated this decree?
Will the local producer win? Hardly. In order to help him another approach entirely is required. The local producer needs to be supported by economic means, giving him tax benefits, help with new technology, transport, loads and credit etc.
The organisation of progressive production industries is only possible in conditions of healthy competition. The local producer needs help to become competitive and not to be given space (land) that he is not ready to use.
As justification of the new measures we are given the example of the old woman on the outskirts of Moscow, who is driven off the streets by the police and then driven out of the markets by the monopolising foreigner, who does not allow her to sell dill. But here the problem is not that the trader at the market is a foreigner, it is that he is monopolising. That is why he often speaks so crudely and disrespectfully to customers who are not buying enough. Let’s remember our soviet shops and the bolshie attitude of the shop assistants, who did not depend on the customers and who knew that in any case there was nowhere else for shoppers to go. When the Moscow market is controlled by Moscow mafia instead of Azerbaijani, they will also dictate one price for all the vendors, pushing out the small producers, display their own products and push out the old woman with her dill to sell. They will also pay bribes to officials, and find local people to confirm that Tadjik apricots and Uzbek watermelons were grown on their vegetable patches.
Instead of all these quotas and percentages it is necessary to bring order to the markets and ensure that there is no monopoly there. The law enforcement officials should not be protecting the owner of the market, but should ensure order and the consumer’s right to choice. And the poor old woman should be allowed to sell her dill anywhere, in the market, in the underpass, on the corner of her house. She and her dill will not threaten the economy of the country.
Laws should be adopted in conjunction with the laws of economics and the development of society and not in spite of them. Otherwise it can only lead to further corruption, which is already growing at an alarming rate. And in a short time we will be forced to remember the soviet phenomenon of a “lack” (defesit) – which applied to the majority of products and foodstuffs and played not an insignificant part in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
And finally. There is a category of foreign citizens and stateless persons who have nowhere to go. These are former citizens of Afghanistan, who supported Nadjibullah’s regime, and their children who are still not legally allowed to be in Russia; Russians from the former Soviet republics who have still not been given Russian citizenship, Georgians from Abkhazia who have not received refugee status; political emigrants from Uzbekistan awaiting resettlement to a safe country. They all had only one way of supporting their families – the market. For them the government experiments with quotas and percentages represent a true tragedy. Decree No 683 was especially hard on those who had managed, after immense effort, to receive temporary asylum and who had thought they had the right to live legally in Russia and earn a crust of bread, if only for a year. News of such tragedies has already reached the coordinating centre of the “Migrants’ Rights” network from Volgograd, Rostov and other regions, from Moscow and St Petersburg. What can be said about such a policy, apart from that it is irresponsible. We tried to do our best , but that obviously was not good enough for some.
Additional commentary to this article. In the regions there are still no new application forms for temporary residence available. Applications on the old forms are not accepted. The post office does not have any of the forms yet. In the meantime the validity of permission for temporary presence is coming to an end and the authorities are refusing to renew it. And suggesting once more “Leave and come back again”.
On the Retail markets of Moscow every third stall is now empty. 20.02.07
In the retail markets of Moscow every third stall stands empty, and in a series of regions over half the market places are empty, RIA Novoski reports, referring to materials of Rosstat.
“In the markets of Moscow, one in three stalls are not being used, and in St Petersburg, Smolensk and Tambov oblasts only 45-49% of the stalls are being used” Rosstat reports. The information shows that the market places that are not being filled are those used by private individuals and rural farm/agricultural households. At the same time nearly all the places given to organisations are being used (87%). Rosstat also reports that in several regions, primarily in Chelyabinsk oblast and Khabarovsk kray, a drop in the sales of fresh products has been recorded, including meat, fish, sugar, oil, cold meats and also in clothes and shoes. These statistics confirm the concerns of some experts that the normative acts which introduced quotas of 40% for the number of migrants working in markets from 15 January and forbid labour migrants to work in markets from 1 April, could lead to damage to markets and trade.
As the deputy of the United Commission for National Politics and Cooperation of States and Religious Unity for the Federal Council Vladimir Slutsker said - this is all the consequence of a decree adopted in haste. He believes that before introducing quotas or reductions for migrants working in any sphere, it is imperative to carry out research into the needs of the market place in each region, which was not done. To illustrate this point the senator described a situation in the trade markets of the Far East. He noted that they were occupied primarily by migrants, and that Russian citizens will be unlikely to take their place. This is linked with the fact that clothes markets in the region are based on cheap imports from China, sold by citizens from China. The Russians will not be able to compensate for the lack of products or market traders, the senator believes.
He also emphasized that those who trade on markets have links with trade chains, - suppliers, packers etc, chains which take years to establish. “It is being proposed to remove the end link in this chain and construct it differently, and according to nationality. But who has thought the consequences of this action through? Therefore I think that any action which affects the complicated processes of migration-national politics should be clearly studied” said Vladimir Slutsker.