The Legal Status Of Foreign Individuals In Russia
By Josh Wilson, Communications Director,
with Yuri Budnik, Lawyer,
and the legal department of Alinga Consulting Group
The legal status of foreign individuals in Russia, as in any country, is regulated by national legislation. Most countries assume that any citizen traveling to another country, whether to sightsee or to open a business, is responsible for knowing and following the rules of the country to which they are traveling.
While embassies can help ensure fair trials for their citizens in foreign countries, embassies cannot "save" their citizens from prosecution under the legislation of the foreign country they are in.
With this in mind, the following article will briefly list legislation in Russia that specifically pertains to foreign individuals.
Bases for the Rights of Foreign Individuals
Most countries base the rights of foreign individuals on the rights of their own citizens with certain changes specified.
For example, Sweden grants foreign individuals all the rights enjoyed by citizens except the right to work without special permission, the right to participate in parliamentary elections, and the right to work in jobs connected with national security.
Latvia is similar, though a bit more restrictive. Foreign individuals there are also equal to citizens except in their right to work, to enroll in military academies, participate in elections, and own firearms. Latvia also bars foreign individuals from working as attorneys, notaries, private detectives, captains of airplanes, sea vessels, and more.
The Russian constitution grants foreign individuals rights equal to those held by citizens with the reservation commonly included in most articles and points of the Russian constitution: "except as established by federal law or international treaty."
Federal laws of the Russian Federation include many such exceptions. We will consider a few of the most relevant of the federal laws that concern foreign individuals below.
Migration Legislation and Documentation
Migration legislation in Russia provides a list of scenarios on the basis of which foreign individuals can be considered to be legally situated on the territory of the Russian Federation.
(a) Individuals may arrive for temporary stays in Russia on the basis of a visa or on the basis of a visa-free regime or other arrangement. The foreign individual must receive a migration stamp upon entering Russia.
(b) Individuals may temporarily reside in Russia on the basis of a temporary residence permit (up to three years, non-renewable) or on the basis of a permanent residence permit (up to five years, renewable).
Russian migration law has its basis in the federal law "On the Legal Status of Foreign Individuals in Russia." This law defines a foreign individual as an individual who is not a Russian citizen and who has documented proof that he or she is a citizen of another country.
All individuals, Russian and foreign, are required to carry full identification at all times. Russian police regularly conduct random document checks of foreign individuals and Russian citizens (although the legality of such checks has been brought into question by Russia's Constitutional Court, the checks are still a regular occurrence on Russia's streets).
As a foreign individual, you will be expected to be able to show, at any time, your passport, visa, and registration. Registration is done by the hotel upon arrival, or, if the individual is not staying in a hotel, can be obtained from the local housing authority via the legal owner of the apartment the individual will be staying in. Registration must be done within three business days of arriving, not counting the day of arrival.
Thus, if one arrives, for example, on a Friday evening, and will leave the following Monday evening, no registration is needed and it is sufficient to produce a migration card (issued upon arrival to Russia) and a transport ticket (rail or airline tickets, etc.) to explain why you do not have registration if you are stopped by Russian police.
Whether one needs original documents or copies is another point of legal contention in Russia. To be safe, we recommend that foreign individuals always carry their original documents with them and keep them in a safe place, such as a front pocket devoted solely to the passport with visa, registration, migration card and other documentation.
For more information about, and examples of, the documentation foreign individuals need to carry with them in Russia, and what your rights and responsibilities are during document checks, we recommend you see the information available at SRAS.org/guides_russian_visa, which is oriented primarily toward holders of student visas, but also has lots of useful information for any foreign individual in Russia.
Most foreign individuals may work in Russia only on the basis of a work permit, which can be issued for one year and renewed after that. The work permit only allows the foreign individual to work in a particular region of Russia as stated on the permit.
The work permit is obtained by the organization which will hire the foreign individual. An individual cannot obtain one for himself/herself without such an organization. Work permits are restricted to yearly quotas which often run out a few months into the year. Organizations must apply in advance for a place in the quota and must be registered in Russia in order to issue the "invitation" to the worker so that the worker may receive a work visa. Most foreign individuals who plan to work enter and reside in Russia on the basis of the work visa. The entire process that the hiring company must undertake can be very time consuming and/or cost thousands of dollars in legal and government fees.
Certain foreign individuals, however, may work without a work permit or work visa.
Some of these exceptions are legally sound – consistently upheld by the courts and observed by officials. For example, those holding permanent residency permits have the same rights as Russian citizens as pertains to labor; they may work without a work permit and reside in Russia on the basis of their residency permit. Work permits are also not required of foreign individuals who work in embassies.
Other exceptions have seen conflicting interpretations and rulings by courts and officials. This is primarily because, while the Federal Law from 25.07.2002 N 115-ФЗ clearly exempts certain individuals from needing work permits, it is not clear if they still require work visas, which are separate from the tourist, business, or student visas on which basis a foreign individual would otherwise arrive in Russia. The work permit is a required step toward obtaining a work visa.
These "grey area" exceptions include the following areas of work:
- Those working for foreign companies providing installation, service, or post-sales service such as warranty repairs to equipment sold to businesses in Russia;
- Journalists accredited in Russia;
- Those studying in vocational colleges in Russia are eligible to work outside of their school during educational breaks and vacations, and may be employed inside the institution during the school year;
- Those working as educators at accredited educational (and non-religious) institutions.
In any case, those who arrive to work under these exceptions, and without a work visa, would be subject to visa restrictions not compatible with building a career in Russia. Those arriving on business visas would be limited to 90 days at a time in Russia before having to leave again for 90 days (or to receive a new visa and arrive shortly thereafter for another 90 days, a process that some have shown is possible under the recently adopted "90 day rule" for these visas).
Those arriving on tourist visas would be limited to 30 days in Russia. Those on student visas can theoretically stay indefinitely so long as they continue to fulfill the needs of the program that they enrolled in at an accredited Russian university. Working full time would be very difficult and the overall cost of maintaining the visa would be very high as it would also include university tuition.
Foreign individuals are also prohibited from certain types of work and/or commercial activity.For instance, foreign individuals are prohibited from working in municipal government offices, on board ships that sail under the Russian flag (whether commercial, military or merchant marine), or on planes that are part of the Russian air force.
Foreign individuals are also prohibited from piloting (commanding) commercial airliners in Russia, assuming posts concerned with national security, and they cannot be conscripted into the military or civil service.
However, foreign individuals can enter the Russian military service or civil service on a contract basis.
Foreign individuals who are working on the basis of work permits and who leave their jobs or who wish to change jobs also have several legal repercussions to keep in mind.
First, the work permit and the employment contact are interdependent. If a foreign individual leaves the employer that sponsored his or her work permit, (or is fired from that position), the work contract should be cancelled and the Federal Migration Service informed within three business days. If the service is not informed within this time, the employer can face a 500,000 ruble fine. The service will cancel the work permit, which cancels the work visa that is dependent upon the permit.
This means, of course, that employees who leave their jobs need to leave Russia very quickly as they are expected to leave Russia before their visa is revoked or expires. A revoked visa means its holder is in Russia illegally.
For those foreign individuals changing jobs, a new work permit and work visa will need to be issued. The new work visa is obtained from the consulate office in the foreign individual's home country or in any country where the foreign individual has legal residency. In most cases this means the individual must leave the country to obtain a new work visa. Currently Ukraine offers a form of legal residency that can be purchased and thus Ukraine has become a haven of sorts for visa-seekers.
It is worth mentioning that in some cases when the relationship between the first employer and the foreign individual is amicable, the cancellation of the work contract will be allowed to linger while arrangements are made with the next employer. While this may make life easier some of the time, it can create substantial legal and tax risks for the company, especially if they are audited by the Labor or Tax Inspectors.
Russia's Tax Code differentiates between taxation applicable to Russian individuals versus foreign individuals and between tax residents versus non-tax residents.
To find out more about taxation, see the article on our site about personal taxation in the Russian Federation: http://www.acg.ru/english/news2.phtml?m=1040
Russia's Civil Code, which regulates such things as contract enforcement, specifically extends itself to cover foreign individuals as well as citizens equally.
Russian Administrative Offenses Code, which covers business and governmental conduct, also extends itself to foreign individuals.
Russian Criminal Code is also equally applicable to foreign individuals and citizens.
In short, foreign individuals can be arrested, tried, jailed, and fined just like citizens for offenses listed in Russia's legislation if the criminal act took place in Russia and the arrest was made there.
Foreign individuals do not have the right to run for office in Russia. Neither do most foreign individuals have the right to vote. However, those with a permanent residency permit do have the right to vote in local elections and referendums (but not federal elections and referendums).
Living abroad is not simple. There are many regulations and risks to weigh, and much to know about the foreign country before attempting to put down roots there. Many will continue coming to Russia to do just that, however, and we hope this article has left them a little better informed about their rights and responsibilities, as well as how to navigate the Russian legal system.
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