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Passport Moscow, April, July 2009, February 2010

Residence Permits

April 2009
Text and photos John Harrison

If you take travel costs into account and add on the cost of acquiring a work permit, getting a visa to live in Russia now costs thousands of dollars a year. Obtaining a residence permit, something that seemed to be just too much trouble to be worthwhile, suddenly makes a lot of sense, particularly when you factor in the fact that the ground rules for getting visas are changing, constantly. Images of long queues and tests for bizarre illnesses, however spring to mind when this subject is broached. Passport’s editor has now got a shiny new residence permit and is still alive to tell the tale; he outlines the main procedures in this article.

Your first stop is the central “OVIR” (office for visa and registration) office on 42 Pokrovka Street (495) 207-41-34, between Kitai-Gorod or Chistyye Prudy metro stations. Here you will be told that there are two stages to the process of becoming a semi-naturalized citizen. Firstly you obtain a “temporary residence permit.” This is issued for three years, and during this time you can apply for a full residence permit. Full residence permits are valid for life, but you have to get it renewed every five years. Renewal involves confirming your address. So far so good. The catch is that if you are not married to a Russian, your application for a temporary residence permit will only be considered if you receive a place on a quota system. The quota is coming down: 600,000 in 2008, 250,000 in 2009 and quite likely no more than 150,000 in 2010. Mayor Yury Luzhkov has explained this as an attempt to: help different areas of the country to stimulate its own business. If you are married to a Russian then you do not have to apply for a place under the quota system, so jump the next four paragraphs.

Residence permit of a foreign citizen

If you need to apply under the quota system, then the ladies at OVIR will give you an application form, which is called: “Заявление о выдаче Разрешения На Временное Проживание,” (declaration of the issuance of temporary residence status). This form contains the standard who are you questions, and examples of how to fill it in are usually to be found on the walls of OVIR. Despite the fact that the tax and immigration services are separate administrative departments, one official advised me that if you don’t have a work permit and are not paying taxes, then it is perhaps best to say you are not working. If you are working in a registered company that is licensed to employ foreigners, then a letter from that employer saying how vital you are to the company may help assure a place on the list, as will letters from dignitaries, heroes, the headmaster of your local school where you teach voluntarily... Migration service specialists also commented that reuniting with your family if you have children here, studying on a post-graduate program can help.

The declaration has to be filled out neatly; best by a Russian as it should be in perfect formal Russian, according to the examples pasted to the walls. Formal Russian differs from ordinary Russian. The form can also be typed out, but no electronic versions are available, and unless you have an old-fashioned typewriter or dot-matrix printer, it is quite difficult to scan and print the document correctly. It is advisable to make a few photocopies of the form to practice on. Make friends with the official concerned and show him or her pencil practice variants before you submit the final version. Most migration service officials are overworked and the general stress levels in local government offices are pretty high. Various documents have to be attached to the declaration, and it is these documents which cause the most headaches:

A valid passport with at least 6 months to run translated into Russian and notarized, 4 photographs should be provided. A document from your home country stating whether or not you have a criminal record. A medical certificate, stating that you are not HIV positive, a document confirmed by your embassy/ recognized Russian government clinics that you are not an alcoholic, a leper, don’t have tuberculosis, syphilis, and VD. That’s all. If you are going round the clinics authorized by OVIR, then your first point of call will be the clinic that issues a medical certificate; but the tests are not all done there, they are done in a variety of different establishments around Moscow. Gathering all the right pieces of paper can take time. If you can afford it, AMC does all the tests for 20,000 rubles in four days; in comparison to a few hundred roubles and a couple of weeks, if you are not working, and probably considerably longer if you have a full-time job.

The completed form is handed in at the immigration office at Большая Ордынка, 16. Строение 4, [Bolshaya Ordinka 16, Str 4), and whether or not you are in the quota is declared during the first 10 days of the next month on a notice board at the same address. If you don’t make it one month you keep on applying until you are included.

Temporary Residence Permit

When you get your place on the quota, or you are married to a Russian, the work starts in earnest. This may be the start of a wave of marriages of convenience in reverse; foreigners marrying Russians to stay in the country. This time you apply from your local migration service office, the address of which you can establish from OVIR. This time the list of documents includes proof of your address, which basically means that if you are renting, a document stating that you are registered at a certain address. If you own a flat, then you need to produce certified copies of your ownership documents, and an all-clear from the local council office saying you don’t owe any money in community charges. You also need to prove that you able to support yourself, meaning money in the bank if you claim you are not working. I showed them a bank statement saying that I had 200,000 rubles in my account; no further questions were asked although this was a few years ago. If you state you are working, then you will need to submit tax documents.

If you are doing all the footwork yourself, my advice is to allow yourself three visits to a particular establishment for each document. One day to find the office and make sure that you are familiar with opening times, charges etc, than another day to actually get the test or whatever it is done, and another day to pick up the final document. If you are working, if you manage to get one document a week, you are doing well, and you need about 15 documents.

Once you have submitted all documents, you will be given your temporary residence permit within 6 months. It is quite difficult getting all the right documents and filling in the forms correctly, so hearsay has it that if they accept your documents you are likely to be given the permit, that is unless you are covering up aspects of your past or present life which may make applying for residence status in Russia difficult.

Then the big day comes when a stamp is put in your passport giving you the right to live in Russia for three years. This is not a work permit, you have to get the full permit to get that.

Full Residence Permit

To apply for full residence status means that you should stay in Russia for most of the time for the year previous to your application, whilst on temporary residence status. It is difficult to explain to any immigration officer in the world why you want to be resident if you are not in the country you are applying to live in for very long.

Long-time Moscow resident Stephen Laperouse starts the application procedure at OVIR
Long-time Moscow resident Stephen Laperouse starts the application procedure at OVIR

The big inconvenience about temporary residence status is that every time you leave Russia you need to get an exit visa, which is also a re-entry visa. This takes 5 working days and costs 400 roubles. However this is not as inconvenient as it may seem. Application for the next exit visa can be made the day after you arrive in the country, and you can come back any time before the three-year temporary residence permit expires. If you get to OVIR where the visa applications are made early in the morning, there are less people queuing up and the whole procedure becomes routine.

You need to prove that you have a place to live. This means that if you don’t own your own flat, you have to not only get the landlord to register you as a temporary resident, but also to sign a piece of paper saying that he or she is not against you residing there permanently, something that landlords won’t do. So in fact you need to have your own place or know somebody who will basically allow you to be registered indefinitely in their flat. Ideal if you are married to a Russian (with a flat) or have bought your own property here.

The full permit is a de facto Russian passport, although you cannot vote. You can use it to come and go from Russia as many times as you like, get credit to buy a car and so on. It is a separate document from your passport and does not affect your own citizenship in any way.

In all, obtaining a full residence permit is time consuming, and to be honest, emotionally stressful. Be this as it may, times are сhanging here in Russia, and have been for a while.

How to Get a Residence Permit II

July 2009
Text by John Harrison and Stephen Lapeyrouse

In the first installment of this series on getting a residence permit (see Passport, April 2009) I described how the application process is initiated and how to go about applying in the first stage of getting a temporary residence permit (РВП – Razresheniye na vremennoe projivanie).

Intrepid American citizen Stephen Lapeyrouse, who as it happens is not married to a Russian and therefore had to apply under the quota system as described in the April article, went through the process described in that article and lived to tell the tale:

“The advice in the April issue to present letters of recommendations from people who appreciate your work here in Russia, was useful in my case. I presented five letters when I submitted my application form for a spot on that month’s quota and I am sure that they made a difference. I admit I was a little surprised to see my name on the list of people in the quota for that month, but seeing my name there was in a sense false security, because really it is only the beginning; that’s when things start.

“You have two months: to gather all the necessary documents, complete the application form, and submit your application for a temporary residence permit. People told me the process was really complicated, with ‘20 documents to fill in and long queues’. In fact there are only a few documents (about six), and virtually no queues or long waits. (Though each applicant must go to special clinics – not common polyclinics – in their area of Moscow, so perhaps this might vary.) There were three medical tests: for HIV/AIDS, for tuberculosis and drug use at three different clinics. Results were available in a day or two (the tests were done in minutes), although I waited a week for the blood test. Before you get each test done you have to pay a few hundred rubles or so at a Sberbank. But as you know, there are many of these banks across Moscow. The medical tests can all be completed in about two weeks max, unless there are some unusual circumstances.

“The really time-consuming documents are, first, getting hold of a document confirming that you do not have a criminal record. Americans have to get this letter from some government office in their place of ‘permanent US residence’; in my case the court office in the county where I lived. That document has to be notarized, then sent to the secretary of state of the state where you live, for the second difficult document, the apostille. (This is a necessary, internationally-valid document which certifies the notarization of the other document. You must have them both. Google “apostille”). This must be done in your place of origin, and, for Americans at least, can not be done at the embassy. This can take a few weeks, and I recommend starting the process immediately, as it is impossible to get an extension on the two-month period within which you can submit documents for the permit. I was actually first told that for Americans the documents might have to be done by the FBI which is complicated and can take 6 months! I didn’t think this was necessary as there was no such stipulation in the instructions or the forms I had to fill out. In fact, the migration officer who received my completed forms and documents didn’t want to accept them at first for this reason, but he made a phone call to some top office in Moscow and was told to his surprise – and my relief! – that documents from the local state government were accepted.

“Your passport needs to be translated and notarized, and you need copies of your registration and current immigration card [the white slip of paper you fill in when you enter the country]. As a tip, I would say that you should make sure that your name is spelt the same way on all your documents (in Russian) as in your notarized passport translation.

“I am now waiting for news on whether or not I will get my temporary residence permit. I am confident that everything will be okay. I was told it should come in about 4 months, and there seemed no question as to whether it would come! In general, if you follow the rules and don’t have to get things done in a hurry, everything is cheap, and possible. The stipulation that you wrote about in the April issue, that you have to prove your income or show you have hundreds of thousands of rubles in the bank, appears to have been dropped. In my experience, the process is not onerous, and is doable. I had expected terrible inconvenience, long lines, dirt and worry; I was pleasantly surprised.

“I would add a couple of things: first that, unless you have at least basic Russian, the process can be a bit intimidating, and I would suggest having a friend at least help you at the first clinic to get started. (And for sure let a Russian fill in the application form for you!) Also, take all your personal documents with you to all of the clinics and other places, as you never can be sure what they might ask for!”

Visas have become an expensive headache in recent years. The РВП is in a way a different kind of headache, but one which leads to a relatively stress-free coming and going, living and working in Russia – when you get the Permanent Residence Permit (which is the third part of the permit process).

Third Round to Stephen Lapeyrouse

Part III in Passport’s series of articles on obtaining a residence permit in Russia

February 2010
Text by Stephen Lapeyrouse and John Harrison

In previous articles, we covered the whole procedure of applying to get on the quota for a temporary residence permit (the “РВП”); which is the first stage in being granted full residency status. In this article our brave hero Stephen Lapeyrouse triumphantly receives the legal status of temporary resident.

Stephen Lapeyrouse triumphantly receives the legal status of temporary resident

“When I found out last spring that I was on the list of people who were eligible to apply for a temporary residence permit under the quota system, I was happily surprised. It was an effort to gather all the papers for the application in the first place and then I had to file all the required papers within the statutory two months, but it was not as bad as I had expected. However, it seemed clear that if they accepted and filed your papers in their computer as a “case”, and you didn’t have a criminal record that you hadn’t told them about, that you would get the “РВП”, the temporary residence status, in, as I was told, 4-6 months. I was told I would be contacted by phone or email, but after 5 months had gone by and I hadn’t heard anything, I went down to the central ‘Foreigners Migration Office’ (FMS) at Pokrovka to find out what was going on.

“‘Yes, we have confirmation that you have been accepted to receive the РВП,’ the surprisingly-attractive young woman behind the window said with a smile. I wanted to say: ‘Right, well, why wasn’t I contacted as I was told I would be?’ But thought better of possibly disturbing the process at this late stage. ‘But you need to have your fingerprints done,’ she added. I said: ‘Oh, Ok, fine; how and where?’ ‘Just there in that room’ as she pointed at a door, ‘but in two days; their schedule is on the door.’

“And though I of course came back on that day, and at the opening hour, no employees graced this room with their working presence for an hour and a half after it was to have opened. Still, I was first in a line of only three persons waiting. Eventually, after I and a woman had asked the security woman thrice if someone was going to come at all, I was led into a small room no larger than two by two metres, and suddenly I was back in the USSR. The walls were still painted that sick green colour apparently rather widespread then. At first he, an approximately 32-year-old guy who looked like a university graduate but with a characteristically ‘huge attitude’, handed me two blanks and instructed me to leave the room and fill them out. He also asked if I had some wet paper with me; a bit perplexed, I said no, and he said he ‘had only toilet paper’. I had to fill out the forms in Russian of course, twice, due to a small mistake the first time. Then he took the papers I had, and indicated to me get my hands ready. This time he did not so much as utter a single word to me, even though I tried to make some friendly chat with him. There was an old large wooden box with a drawer and on it a small metal plate in a top corner. He poured some black ink onto it, took a roller – the kind that you use to paint up lino-cuts – rolled some paint on it, and proceeded to roll it over all my finger tips. BLACK ink. He then firmly pressed each finger tip into a separate box on the special forms – duplicates. But that wasn’t all – not at all! He then inked up the – what are they called? – the ‘lengths’ of my fingers, and then, pushing them all together, pressed each hand’s fingers down to put finger (not finger tip) prints into the appropriate boxes on the forms. Then he did my palms! When it was all over my hands were covered in black ink. He at least nodded yes when I asked, “Eto vsyo?” (Is that all?).

“He handed me a small wad of toilet paper; but there was no water closet available for the likes of me. So – back now in the large room, where some 40 people were applying at the various windows for this and that – I could only try to use spit and the toilet paper to clean my hands, which didn’t really do much with this dark, thick ink. (Not sure what the other people standing around thought of me.)

“Since the first time I was in Russia in 1986, here now again in October 2009 I had stepped back into the USSR in that small room, and in the attitudes of the staff that were little changed! All the required medical checks that I had had to do to apply for the РВП were done in pretty clean, uncrowded, even nice surroundings, and using mostly modern equipment. But this stage of the process was unfriendly and indifferent. Soviet in the post-Soviet time.

“Anyway, before trying to leave for a restroom (which to enter now costs about a buck!) at the nearby Atrium Shopping Centre, so that I could try to scrub my hands clean, I went to the next FMS window to get the document saying I could have temporary registration. At that window, where a screaming, crying argument with a woman from Ukraine had just happened before my eyes because she had used an abbreviation in two insignificant places on her 4-page application, and she would need to rewrite it all again, and after hearing the FMS woman behind the window discussing for about 5 minutes on the phone the best shopping locations with her mother, I was told that I (not their incorrect information) had made a mistake, and I had to go to a different FMS office, the one for my area of Moscow (and btw do the hand printing process again!). It seems they hadn’t checked their paperwork clearly, or maybe they did, but still got it wrong. So that was an irritating, wasted morning, and I had the uselessly blackened hands and dark mood to prove it.

“I went to the FMS in my region of Moscow at my next available chance, and made a good move by asking the head of the office, the Nachalnik, where to get the hand-printing done, and receive my РВП. He immediately went and spoke to the man who had handled my papers in May, and this mediation got me good and quick attention! But this officer – Alexander was his name – only gave me the official letter (needed in the next stage to register at a different FMS office and police desk located near my apartment), and set up an appointment time the next week to do the hand-printing, and receive the coveted РВП stamp! I was also given a list of required items to bring with me to the appointment: a xerox of the main passport page; a copy of the official document (which they had just given to me!); a handy-wipes pack; a black, “gel” (not ball point) ink pin; and medical gloves! ‘Ok; whatever you say!’

“So, a few days later, I went back to this regional FMS office (in my case 45 minutes by train away). I had prepped much of the morning to have everything in unrejectable order: I had the papers of course (plus others just in case!), handy wipes, gloves, and even a bottle of water, all the required items. The conditions at this local office were better and friendlier. (They seem to have remembered me from May, when I had almost cheered when they accepted my apostille; then I had been the last person of their workday, and I and the staff in a room chatted about Obama and life in Russia and America. We were laughing and joking.) This time the woman who rolled ink onto my hands said to me: ‘Probably you don’t do this in this way in your country?’ I tried to be polite and said: ‘No, we have a different system.’ I joked asking if she was an artist. She laughed, and clearly seemed to realize the absurdity of this dated inking procedure – she was also required, wearing the glove I had bought and brought, to do this dirty work. It took me a full five minutes to get the ink off my hands – but I didn’t need to use spittle; and the woman waited patiently, and with understanding!” [When John Harrison went through this stage of the residence permit in 2008, no finger, hand or prints of any parts of the body were necessary; so the rules seem to change a lot, and it is perhaps not always the officers’ fault that they don’t know what they are.]

“No lamination, no bar codes, no modern high-tech anything. An ink stamp-form was put on a full page in my passport, and my information was handwritten onto it. I wasn’t sure what decade I was in. But then, sent into another room for what turned out to be just 30 seconds, a bored-looking officer in uniform stamped this same passport page with some crucial red Russian seal. I felt relieved, and almost happy. Almost…

“After that I needed to take the official paper (they had kept the copy I had been required to make of the document they gave me!) and my passport which said I had temporary residence status, and I had to go to my local passport office (Passortni Stol, near my apartment) to register and get that magical registration stamp in my passport that says I can live here for three years. (During this time I can then apply to get the full residence permit it seems). To register I had to give them: a translated, notarized copy of my passport, the original official paper from the regional FMS office, a letter from the landlord (or in my case flat ownership) document copies. This all had to be notarized there on site; it cost nothing and was done fairly quickly – about two hours in the process, mostly just waiting. Then I was off to the nearby police desk (an unrepaired aging Soviet-era building), and one final ‘chief’, who took the latest stack of documents (about 6), and filled in my registration stamp!

“I had it, finally done, and I texted several friends of my ‘victory’! It had taken about 9 months from start to finish, but it was done. (I won? Some of my Russian friends in their text replies wondered!)

“Now somewhat unexpectedly – in the course of an hour, actually less but it took about an hour for it to sink in – my Russian life and world had changed. It was a completely different feeling. I no longer felt that I was here temporarily, and that I must get out by x-date, and then attempt to get back in at some consulate in one country or another. Now I need to get an exit visa, to get out and back in! But I could stay for 3 full years if I wanted.”

The next article will cover the little issue of how to get out of Russia when you have temporary residence permit status.

Stephen recommends – though he supposes conditions will vary at the various FMS offices, stages of the process, and with each FMS officer and their moods – more-than-“Western” patience and persistence and especially carrying around with you to all these various offices in the various stages of this ‘obstacle course’, all of the documents you think you will need, and also those you don’t think you will need, and copies of most of them, just in case. This can save time and irritation when you are suddenly asked for a piece of paper which you were not asked to have ready, particularly as Russian offices aren’t often inclined reliable accuracy and to doing photocopies for you. Stephen says he cannot imagine anyone being able to do this whole process who does not speak at least basic Russian, or who does not have someone to help them at each step and meeting. Also, be prepared to go back to the Soviet Union from time to time in the process. Good luck!