One of the most immediate considerations a foreign national will face upon coming to Russia is compliance with Russia’s immigration system. This overview of the Russian immigration regulations sets out the procedures needed to be taken by a foreign individual, and his employer, to try to ensure that individual fulfils the requirements of the Russian legislation whilst he is visiting and/or working in Russia. However, the system is somewhat Byzantine in its complexity, and immigration regulations are evolving rapidly, both in technical terms and, more importantly, in how they are practically enacted. Hence, constant vigilance is required to keep abreast of the current status. There is significant risk in assuming that a process that has worked in the past will work again in the future, even where there are no formal technical changes to the regulations.
While it's become a lot easier to get a Russian visa, don't think your problems are over when you've received yours. If you make a false step while running the gauntlet of registration and (if necessary) getting a work permit, you face fines, hassles and maybe even arrest and deportation. This is why Expats who can afford to, take a more expensive, but far less stressful route: they use one of the many visa services. The agencies stay abreast of the changing rules and regulations and can cope with the bureaucracy, from start to finish.
Getting a Visa
First, plan ahead. It usually takes anywhere from four to six weeks to get a Russian visa, although it is technically possible to get one in as little as one day. To get a visa, you need first to get an invitation from a Russian organization. This can be a Russian firm, government organization, educational institution, or a representative office of a foreign firm. Some international hotels can also arrange a visa invitation. The invitation is issued through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Moscow, which in turn either sends a telex to the specified Russian consulate abroad instructing that a visa be issued or gives you a invitation which you can then take into a Russian Consulate. Visa service organizations are in the business of issuing these invitations for a fee (which includes the fee paid to the MFA for processing the invitation). Keep in mind that the Russian consulate abroad also charges a fee, which is in addition to the fee you pay to the visa service company.
Once you're notified that your telex has arrived at the consulate, bring your passport, a completed visa application form, and the required fee (it varies from consulate to consulate). If you're applying for a multiple entry visa, you are officially required to present the results of an HIV test conducted during the preceding three months. Most Medical Centers in Moscow offer this service. The truth is that not all consulates bother to ask for one, but in case you are asked, it's better to be safe than sorry. The fees you pay for the issuance of the invitation and for the visa itself vary, depending on how quickly you want to receive the document.
Tourist visas are usually issued for one month, while the others are issued for anywhere from three months to one year. The short-term visas are almost always single entry-exit visas, while the longer-term visas usually allow you to make three trips into and out of Russia. Multiple-entry visas allow you to enter and leave the country as many times as you wish.
In some countries the Russian Consulate may have franchised-out the job of issuing visas to a specialized agency or computer-centre. In this case you can no longer apply directly to the Consulate, but must take your documents to this agency instead. In theory this is supposed to streamline the application process, but in practice no real improvements have been noticed. There will usually be Consular Officers of the Russian Federation working at the centre, supervising the clerical work done by the staff and resolving any procedural queries.
There are four main areas of compliance required for most foreign nationals and parties linked with them when coming to (and leaving) Russia. These are:
Work permits/Residency permits.
TYPES OF VISAS
Basically, the type of Russian visa is determined by the individual's purpose of visit; this, in turn, governs the scope of activities that an expatriate may be engaged while in Russia under the certain type of visa.
If your travel plans take you through Moscow on a connecting flight (or train) to another country, you are entitled to obtain a three-day transit visa. This will enable you to get out into the city instead of remaining in the transit hotel. You will need to evidence your journey at the Consulate with the actual air ticket (original - photocopies, itineraries, or email confirmations are not accepted). You can only obtain a transit visa if you are going via Moscow to somewhere else - a straight return ticket to/from Moscow would not be sufficient. Again, a visa agency or hosting organization can arrange this for you in advance, and will have someone meet you when you step off the plane. It is technically possible to obtain a transit visa when arriving at major airports, although in practice this is not so easy.
A business visa is foreseen for foreign nationals coming to Russia for business purposes, including participation in negotiations, conferences and consultations, making contracts and professional improvement. A business visa does not empower foreign individuals to hold official positions in Russian legal entities, represent them, or perform work in Russia under the civil or employment agreements. Importantly, business visas also cover some persons coming on “montage” or “chef-montage” activity, where they are helping put imported machinery into production or servicing it for the foreign vendor. Generally, business visas are issued based on invitations from Russian hosts and issued via Russian consulates outside Russia. The validity period of a single or a dual business visas is three months.
Multiple-entry business visas, like work visas, are valid for 12 months. However, these are restricted, so they only allow the foreign national to be present in Russia for no more than 90 days in any 180-day period. Once the visa expires, the foreign individual has to leave Russia, as business visas cannot be reissued in Russia. Russia has a number of immigration treaties, most notably with the EU (excluding the UK, Ireland and Denmark), which can extend the length of the validity of business visas up to five years.
A work visa is intended for foreign individuals coming in Russia to work or render services under an employment or a civil agreement respectively. By contrast with a business visa, a work visa allows an expatriate to occupy a position in the Russian company (or representative office or branch of a foreign company) indicated in the individual work permit and to act in an official capacity for this company. Initially, a single-entry work visa is issued by a consulate outside Russia for three months only based on the employer's invitation. The employer may further apply for an extended multiple-entry work visa upon expatriate’s arrival in Russia.
Foreign nationals are required to stay in Russia during the application process and issuance of the multiple entry work visa. The validity period of a work visa is linked to the validity period of the expatriate’s work permit (or accreditation card issued for accredited person working in a representative office or branch of a foreign company), but cannot exceed one year. If the employment agreement remains in force upon the visa's expiry, a new multiple-entry work visa can be obtained, provided that there is a new individual work permit.
Visa for "Inosotrudniki"
This is a special type of work visa issued for accredited expatriate employees of foreign companies operating in Russia through its representative offices or branches. In practice, this is an easier visa to obtain from an administrative perspective, as it separates the visa application from the work permit.
Spouses and children of relocating expatriates can apply for visas in the same way as the executive. An ‘Accompanying Spouse Visa’ and/or ‘Dependent’s Visa’ can be obtained at the same time as the expatriate applies for his/ her own visa. Talk with your HR department to make certain that this process is carried out at the same time as your visa application.
Upon arrival in Russia, each foreign national should complete and retain the stamped half of the immigration card. This card contains information about the arrival and departure of the individual in and from Russia, as well as the period of his or her stay in Russia. This document is delivered to each foreign citizen by the Russian border control authorities. The foreigner should keep the immigration card during his whole stay in Russia. If the immigration card is damaged or lost, the foreign national should notify the local immigration authorities within three days, and they may further issue a duplicate upon presenting the documents based on which the individual entered Russia (passport and visa, if applicable).
Upon departure from Russia, the foreign national should return the original immigration card at the Russian border control. Failure to return the immigration card is considered to be a violation and may lead to the formal deportation of a foreign individual from Russia. If deported, the individual will not be able to enter Russia for the next five years.
Registering your Immigration Card
The process for registering your immigration card will be exactly the same as it was for registering a visa. If you are staying in an apartment, you will need a notarized letter from your landlord
Once you've arrived in Russia, you are legally required to register within three working days (72 hours) with OVIR, the agency that registers foreigners in Russia. This is done a number of ways depending on where you will live while staying in Russia and whether your visa is multiple entry or not. If your visa is multiple-entry, you must register at the Central OVIR. Bring the original letter of invitation from your sponsoring organization, your migration card, passport, and a notarized letter from your landlord.
If you lived in a hotel during the first few days of your stay and then moved to a private residence, do not make the mistake of thinking you are registered. You still need to have your card registered at OVIR at your permanent address in Russia. And if that's not enough, you might need yet another letter if you've gotten your visa invitation from a foreign rep office. This will need to be a letter from the Russian organization that accredits the rep office.
For single and double entry visas, you can register simply by having your sponsoring organization stamp your migration card. You will need a Central OVIR registration as well, however, if you intend to marry in Russia or buy a car. If you are living only in a hotel during your stay, the hotel will register you. But count your stamps. Your card will be stamped once when you check in, and a second time when you check out. Some people think that the first stamp is sufficient. It is not. Most visa service companies will handle the OVIR registration process, saving you the wait in line.
What Happens if you Don't Register
You can be fined if you don't quite get your registration right and in some very rare cases can even be deported. And if you are found out at the airport, it can cost you several hundred dollars in fines not to mention the hassle of having to miss your flight and spend a couple of more days in Moscow to get an exit visa from Central OVIR.
ENROLMENT AND DE-ENROLMENT PROCEDURES
Enrolment is the process of notifying the immigration authorities of a foreign citizen’s whereabouts (international travel as well as internal trips within Russia). Upon arrival in Russia, each foreign national should be enrolled (registered) in the Russian migration system at his host location. Enrolment, as well as de-enrolment should be completed in respect of the foreign national by the hosting party: either by hotel, or by employer (visa sponsor), or landlord (whichever is applicable). In practice, most landlords are unwilling to perform this role.
This process is to be completed within 3 business days upon arrival, each time an individual arrives to the country or travels to another region within Russia for more than 3 business days. The de-enrolment process should be completed within 2 calendar days of the departure, every time a foreign national departs from Russia or leaves for another region within Russia for more than 3 business days. It is recommendable that the individual hold a copy of the enrolment/de-enrolment form while travelling in Russia or outside.
Further, as the fines for non-compliance with the enrolment requirement are rather high, each foreign employee will typically need to notify his or her employer on any trip within or out of the country, even if this is personal trip, so that the procedure can be carried out.
When your Visa Expires
Visas can be renewed for a week or two when they are expiring - long enough to allow you to finish what you're doing and leave the country. If your visa cannot be renewed you need to apply for a new one. This usually necessitates a trip out of the country, although some agencies do offer visas that don't require you to leave. As a rule the more established visa firms do not offer such services. Given the lead time to obtaining a new visa, allow at least one month between the time you apply for a new visa and the expiration of your current one.