Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Moving to Russia?

Quite a lot of people, particularly in the US, constantly discuss leaving the country for some place more promising now that the American dream has turned into a full-blown nightmare. And although Russia doesn’t figure prominently on the list of countries to move to, perhaps it should. Russia is almost unique in that it is not overpopulated and has all the natural resources, including energy, for many generations to come. It is also politically stable, remarkably well defended, and in spite of much disinfo about how bad its economy is (which turns out to be mostly wishful thinking by those who want Russia to fail) it is actually developing quite nicely.

The problem with going to Russia to live is that there are only a couple of ways to do so legally, and they are all rather complicated and involved, with lots of bureaucratic hoops to jump through. I am not a legal expert, and I am providing this information on an as-is basis with no guarantees. Don't attempt any of this before consulting with someone who is an expert in these matters.

The easiest way is to get a long-term tourist visa, either directly through a Russian consulate (cheaper but not easy) or through a visa processor that works with travel agencies (more expensive and easier but still not easy). The best long-term tourist visa you can get is a three-year visa that requires you to leave and re-enter Russia every six months. If you fail to leave before the six months are up, you will be allowed to leave but will not be allowed to reenter. After each entry you have seven days to register at a physical address, either through a business such as a hotel or through a private citizen who is permanently registered at that address. (If you happen to turn up during the World Cup, the seven days becomes 24 hours; keep that in mind!) In turn, in order to be permanently registered at an address the individual who is registering you has to own the property at that address, and have the corresponding stamp in their internal passport, because rental agreements only allow for a temporary registration. If you fail to register in time, your visa may be closed at your next departure and you will be unable to obtain another one. Once the three years are up, you have to go home and reapply for a new visa.

The other way to remain in Russia is by obtaining a residency permit. In order to apply, you have to either fit into a quota or be granted an exception. Exceptions are granted to people who fall into one or more of the following categories:

• Born in Russia or part of USSR that has since become Russia
• Married to a Russian citizen
• Have at least one child who is a Russian citizen
• Have a parent who is a Russian citizen and lives in Russia
• Are a proficient native speaker of Russian

Certain categories of VIPs, businessmen and professionals can squeak in past the quota as well.

The quotas fill up very quickly in many places. If you are planning to apply in Moscow or St. Petersburg regions and are subject to the quota, you can pretty much forget about it. But Russia is a very big country, and there are regions where the quotas virtually never fill up. Also keep in mind that the offices that deal with migrants (which is what you will be called) in the major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg especially, are permanently mobbed and you will spend a great deal of time navigating various queues. Things are getting a bit better, but it still takes all day to accomplish just one relatively simple task, like submitting a form or picking up a document.

You also have to be sponsored by a Russian citizen who will take responsibility for you while you go through this process and provide you with a place to live. This is no small responsibility, since the sponsor will be held responsible for any transgressions you commit while on Russian territory. The sponsor has to issue you an invitation and a guarantee letter, with which you can then get a special three-month visa from a Russian consulate back home. During these three months you have to apply for a temporary permit to remain (РВП) which allows you to remain in Russia for longer than your visa allows. In order to apply for the temporary permit, you have to have all your ducks in a row ahead of time.

And there are a lot of ducks:

• You need proof of income. Easiest way is a bank record from a Russian bank showing that you have at least a hundred thousand rubles on deposit.

• You need proof of lack of criminal record issued by your home country within the last month.

• You need to pass a medical test showing you to be in good health, free of HIV and various other communicable diseases and not a drug addict.

• Lastly, you need a successful result on a state-mandated Russian language, history and culture exam taken within the last five months.

Once you have the temporary permit, you can apply for a residency permit (ВНЖ). The process is similar. The residency permit is good for five years and can be renewed continuously provided you apply at least two months before the five years are up. You also have to register every year, showing proof of income and reporting your address.

If you are absent from Russia for longer than 6 months, your residency permit becomes null and void and it's back to square one: looking for someone to sponsor you. After five years of constant residency (being absent from Russia for no more than three months in any given calendar year) you can apply for citizenship. I won’t go into all the details of applying for citizenship because by the time you get to that point your knowledge of Russian bureaucracy will in all likelihood exceed mine.

It's quite a gamut to run, so I wouldn't blithely promise people that they can just move to Russia at the drop of a hat when conditions sour back home. If anything, those who want to move to Russia should start working on that well before circumstances force them. At the very least, learn Russian and try taking the test. If you pass, then with enough effort and foresight the rest of it can be handled.

Or you can just live in Russia as a tourist, but then you won’t be allowed to find employment in Russia. However, this restriction is meaningless for the modern digital nomad because all they need is a laptop, a smartphone and an internet connection, and internet access in Russia is ubiquitous, fast and cheap. You will have to take a brief trip abroad every six months and a longer trip home every three years. But if the previous discussion of getting residency made you queasy, or if becoming proficient in Russian seems like too much work, then that’s probably the approach for you to take.

It seems like a valid question to ask, Why are such Byzantine, labyrinthine protocols necessary just to allow someone to live in Russia? This may have something to do with the Byzantine legacy itself. The Byzantine (or the Eastern Roman) Empire, outlasted Rome itself by quite a few centuries, and it didn't put much emphasis on individual prerogatives, always prioritizing the prerogatives of the state over the individual. Russia absorbed a lot of that mindset, as did Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire continued for quite a few centuries more, fighting multiple wars with Russia essentially over scraps of Byzantium. It was the Byzantine cultural legacy that allowed the relatively young Russian state, born (or, rather, baptized en masse) in 988 AD, and fighting to kick the Poles out of Moscow as late as 1613, to then leapfrog over many centuries of development, to emerge as a fully formed European state in the 1700s.

The emphasis on having to always register one's address probably has its roots in the law of serfdom, which attached each person to a patch of land managed in favor of a landlord, but even more probably is a direct continuation of the police state procedures implemented in the USSR. The terminology has changed from the obviously communist "propiska" to the more sociable registration, but the overbearing system of population control has remained intact. This paperwork requirement, and the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through to fulfill it, is quite outdated, given that virtually everyone in Russia now has a smartphone and is on the internet, the SIM card is tied to one's internal passport, its location can be established in several ways, and all of this makes it so that where someone happens to be is almost automatically part of the official record.

Be that as it may; the legacies of ancient and not-so-ancient empires (which were great success stories of their eras) die slowly. Prioritizing state prerogatives over individual interests may be on strategy for the state, and the individuals will muddle through somehow, especially the resourceful and clever ones, who might prove useful to the state. But is the complex and unwieldy system of laws and regulations that determine who can live where in Russia and for how long even on strategy for the Russian state? This seems doubtful.

• Consider that Russia went through a demographic collapse in the 1990s, following the dissolution of the USSR, and is now passing through another demographic trough because there aren't enough children being born to children born in the 1990s, because, in turn, there aren't enough of them.

• Also consider that Russians living outside of Russia make up the largest diaspora in the world (between 20 and 40 million) followed by India with 15 million and Mexico with 12.

• Finally, consider that there is a shortage of skilled workers in Russia, with many enterprises struggling to find enough bodies to fill the available jobs and many jobs going to foreign migrants who repatriate their earnings instead of spending or investing them within Russia.

All of this would indicate that it would be most beneficial for the Russian Federation to simplify and streamline the process by which people who are Russian, who speak Russian and who are culturally Russian, but who lack a Russian passport, can gain the right to live, study, obtain health care and work in Russia for as long as they want to. In fact, there was a plan to do just that: a legislative proposal for a "Russia card". But it died, and a raft of minor legislative tweaks to the rules governing economic migrants was signed into law instead. And while numerous criticisms of Russia can often be countered with "Yes, it used to be like that, but things got better since then," in this case, they haven't, and, judging from the current legislative agenda, they won't.

Even if you take the attitude that the Russian state only has to care about its own citizens, consider this. In the 1990s, when times were really bad in Russia, anyone who could fled abroad. They often failed to renew their passports and allowed them to lapse, or simply lost them. And now, when times in Russia are so much better, they want to go back to visit. But they can't enter on a visa because Russian visas aren't granted to Russian citizens, and their expired passports (should they still have them) are not valid for entry. Their only option is to go through a rather rigorous application process for a return certificate (свидетельство на возвращение, СНВ) which is only valid for 14 days. During these 14 days they have to arrive in Russia and within three days apply for a new internal passport. Once they have an internal passport (issued within a few weeks) they have to apply for an international passport (a few more weeks). Now, how are Russian citizens living abroad but lacking valid Russian passports supposed to be able to travel to Russia on their two-week vacations? Answer: it is impossible. This set of procedures essentially locks a large number of Russian citizens out of the country.

In short, this seems like a major instance of bad governance. It is unfair to Russian citizens, to the millions of Russians who are not Russian citizens, to those who aren't Russian but wish to settle in Russia, and it puts Russia itself at a major disadvantage in remedying its demographic dire straits by alienating its gigantic diaspora. But, as with so many things in Russia, things rarely stay as they are, and the situation may get better over time.

14 comments :

rapier said...

Russia's population vs it's size, even accounting for the large and understandably low population arctic and sub arctic regions, borders on comedy when set against the backdrop of what is seen as an over populated world.

I'm not saying it is a problem that needs to be fixed somehow, I'm just noting it.

I've recently had this sort of fantasy which involves suggesting to Native Americans, especially of the Plains, that they should move en mass to some area between where the Steppe borders the Taiga. It's all very silly of course.

My donkey said...

Your examples of Russian bureaucracy reminded me of the "loyalty oath" crusade in Joseph Heller's Catch 22, and the way it was quickly and authoritatively ended by one simple "Gimme eat" command. I can see President Putin similarly putting an end to the current Russian passport difficulty simply by saying "Stop this nonsense."
Here's the excerpt I'm referring to in the novel:
http://mbeps.com/catch-22-loyalty-oaths/

Chris said...

Red Tape is a nightmare in Russia. I have a Polish cousin, who travels there regularly on business and I've heard a few horror stories. He was once jailed for 4 days somewhere in Siberia, because the German company that arranged his paperwork failed to provide for a very important permit, even though he had a dozen others that were also required. Then there is the language issue, the average English speaker can barely learn to read and write their own language, I don't see how they will cope with learning a lot more difficult language. I had a few years of Russian in school and I can tell you it is about the same level of difficulty as German and I have yet to meet any English speaker that managed to master German to any significant degree. If I were an American looking to leave the country, I'd go somewhere where I could get by with English or maybe Spanish as many Americans already speak it to a degree. Pretty much any British ex-colony would be an attractive option. I quite liked living in Singapore and Ireland, although none of them are particularly survivable in a post-collapse scenario. My choice would probably fall on Australia, New Zealand or perhaps one of the Myriad Latin American countries that are already pretty collapse-proof, such as Colombia or Argentina.

Isabella said...

Certainly, even being in Russia with a local to help you, trying to find out where to go and what to do is a nightmare. I spent a few months in Vladivostok, at the FEFU. I found a graduate student who ran an English Club where I gave a talk, and belonged to the Students Help desk - run by students. The University did't give a damn. He showed how he had a post that "went viral" which showed him ringing up Governments departments for me, trying to find out about the 3 yr Temporary Visa. He rang 12 numbers and ended up with the number he first started with. Even Russians who live and work locally have nightmare of a time with the system.
One afternoon, we went into town. It took an hour and 4 visits with an increasingly pissed off young, but bolshy, Russian guy, for us to run the correct department to earth and find the correct clerk. It was May - she informed us that she started work on the quota's in January. They were now all gone - for the entire year. Unless you either had a relative or some other close tie to Russia, such as about 50,000 in a local business, you had zero chance of getting a Visa. "We dont get people like you, who have no contact with Russia, but want to come and live here" she said. I replied, "No, that's because you have no Visa for us, you keep us out". It's a chicken and egg problem.
There is another way to get there, and that is try and get some kind of job. If you can keep your contract renewed, each year you can extend your visit for a year, as long as you can work.
Ecuador has fixed the Retirement Visa issue with east, So has Thailand.
Why can't Russia??
Because there is a huge inertia in the old Soviet way of thinking and doing things.
However, Vladimir Vladimirovic has said, all these rigid, non-flexible things that are holding up the country must go.
Maybe, and hopefully, he can find a few minutes to fix this horrendous Visa problem too.

Veronica said...

Seems to me Russia has made astounding strides since the '90s - fair enough if some things aren't great. When it comes to where to live out collapse, though, I know I'm too old to manage that much cultural and linguistic change. To be honest, I'm not sure I was ever up to it. I'll stay put and try to rebuild where I am. If that's possible. Who knows, we may all be roaming the streets. But adapt or die, I guess.

JeanDavid said...

Reading the bureaucratic complexity involved in moving to Russia, it is easy to criticize their government and its policies.

But if you listed the requirements to be a permanent resident in Great Britain, or almost any other European country, or the United States, they are almost as bad, differing only in the details.

In the few European countries I have visited, I was always required to give my passport to the hotel where I was staying. In France, it was not quite so bad because I stayed with my father, a French citizen, who owned property there. So I could keep my passport. But if I wanted to cash a traveler's check at the bank, I had to show my passport. I do not know how I would do that if it was left at the hotel.

Isabella said...

Dmitry - the 3 year Tourist Visa you mention - this is new to me.
I had understood a Tourist Visa was for one month, and that was that.
Can you tell me a little more about it - where and how to apply for one please? if you can find a few minutes to give a pointer or two I'd be very grateful.

[I live in Ecuador, so please, dont' suggest I try the Russian Embassy here. No country Embassy I've ever been to has been any help at all. They employ locals, who know little of the country they are representing. If I hadn't had advice on getting a Form 15 to import my cat from a Russian lady who lives in Moscow, I'd have had big problems getting her into the country!! :-) ]

It sounds as though it could solve a problem for me.

Many thanks.

MoonShadow said...

Both Russia and Canada stand to benefit from global warming like no other nations on Earth; as their vast sub-arctic territories gradually become warmer and more able to support modern mechanical agriculture. Also, opening up of the Northwest and Northeast passages during the summer months would *vastly* benefit both countries to the detriment of existing national canals.

I'm less concerned about moving to Russia than being able to invest into it, as I strongly suspect that as the oil age draws to a close, food will once again become a majority budget item for the typical median household. And when that happens the political control of arable land, access to freshwater sources, and proximity to water shipping routes will (once again) dictate the wealth and (ability to project military) power of nation-states.

Looking at this possible future leaves me conflicted. As a libertarian, I fear that such a world will result in less respect for individual freedoms than currently exist in our modern world; which is already a far cry from a libertarian ideal. As a christian with conservative concepts of family, morality, culture and sexuality; I view the rise of a culture hegemon that leans in those directions as a positive movement, particularly if my most likely alternative is the Middle Kingdom; which has almost zero cultural respect for individual liberties nor judeo-christian mores. As a stoic, I understand that there is realistically nothing that I could do to alter the course of future history, so I serve my own happiness and the well being of my own family best simply by accepting what I cannot change and adapting to the way the world actually will be.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Isabella -

Yes, there do exist Russian visas that are for 3 years and 180 days continuous presence within the country. They can be either tourist (done through a travel agency) or personal (done through a personal invitation).

Isabella said...

Thank you Dmitry.
I take it that's a travel agency in Russia??
I do know there are outfits who advertise online [from Russia] who claim to be able to send you a letter of invitation for a fee.
I'm assuming these aren't legal :-)

Isabella said...

Thank you for your confirmation Dmitry.
Sadly, I have done my Google - they appear to be only for US citizens.
I am not a US citizens.
Damn.

Reishi said...

Funny enough, I started learning Russian a few weeks ago. It doesn't seem very difficult, or at least it's much easier than Chinese. There's nowhere in the world I'd rather live than right where I am (fertile midwest US with lots of clean water and all the people I love), however I decided it would be prudent to have an exit strategy. It's clear the future will be ugly, polarization is getting extreme, and Russia seems quite sane comparatively. Some of my great grandparents left eastern Poland (now Ukraine) just in time to avoid war, ethnic persecution, and starvation. Hopefully I have some of their instincts and will know when to go before it's too late.

It seems the major trade off in leaving the country would be giving up the network of relationships. I have more relationships than most in the US simply because I stayed in the city I grew up in. I remember all the smart kids were going to college out of state, and I was even made fun of for staying. And to be honest, most of them have much more successful careers than me. But in the end, I think the rootless career driven lifestyle will leave them quite vulnerable.

Isabella said...

For the further information of yourself and your readers Dmitry, I did contact a Visa Support outfit - they confirm. The 3 yr Tourist Visa is for Americans only. Why is a mystery.
As a British / Australia dual citizen the best I can get is 30 days. NO use to me at all.
Thus, if you are not American, you're back to looking for a Work Visa. Which means having the sort of talents Russia is seeking, and finding a job, with a one year contract which you must renew with the same company every year.
Should you need to find work with another outfit, every year you must return to your home country and apply anew for another Visa.
Not helpful - not one bit.
Sob.

Adam said...

Dmitry, have you looked into the changing status of Vladivostok? I remember reading awhile back that Russia was changing requirements for that area.