Traders Hope to Adapt to New Migration Rules
The changes primarily target labor migrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, by simplifying registration and acquisition of work permits, Federal Migration Service spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin said.
But the new rules also affect foreigners from the other countries when it comes to registration, he said. Unlike before, police will have to register automatically any foreigner without taking time to check the submitted papers, he said.
In addition, both CIS and Western nationals now have a new option of registering by simply sending a notification by mail or having their employer do that, said Denis Soldatikov, another spokesman for the migration service. Other migration rules will stay the same for Westerners, he said.
In the Savyolovsky electronics market in north-central Moscow, migrant traders appeared relatively unconcerned by the changes Monday afternoon.
Maxim, who hails from Belarus and sells an odd assortment of electronic gadgets in the market, was confident that not much would change with the introduction of the new regulations. "We're not sitting on our suitcases here," he said. "This is Russia, you know. There's always a way out" of problems.
Timur, his Georgian neighbor at the market who also refused to give his last name, said he would have no choice but to go home come April 1, when the CIS immigrants are expected to be banned from trading in the outdoor markets altogether.
Galina, a Russian-born meat vendor at the Butyrsky market just down the road, could not quite understand what all the fuss was about.
"Who's going to sell when all these guys leave?" she asked.
Galina, from the Rostov region, said she was quite comfortable working with her fellow market traders from the Caucasus, particularly after the market administration made changes to the way the market was run late last year.
Some traders said they thought the changes in the immigration laws affecting CIS citizens would be short-lived.
"This is mere posturing," said Ismailbek Savadov, an Azeri citizen who sells vegetables at the Butyrsky market. "I've been living in Russia for more than 30 years and I know not much will change."
At the Butyrsky market, administrators are nonetheless bracing themselves for the changes, by taking steps to legalize their migrant workers.
"We have been sent for a medical checkup, in addition to paying the necessary fees," Ismailbek said. "We should now cross our fingers and see what happens next."
The migration service released a cartoon with step-by-step instructions for how CIS migrants should register and obtain work permits under the new rules. A smiling Russian employer is shown greeting an equally happy man with Caucasus features at the airport and sending a notification to the authorities. The migrant then submits documents for a work permit and receives it in 10 days. The next pictures show illegal migrants who hide under a fir tree or run away from the authorities before being caught and deported.
Western consultancies said the new rules were good news for foreign nationals from the CIS or other nations that don't require a visa to come into Russia. Any such foreigner may obtain an individual work permit through a simplified procedure for one year, said Evgeny Reyzman, a partner at Baker & McKenzie in charge of labor- and migration-law practice for Russia and the CIS.
What is less clear is how this will work with regard to millions of illegal migrants who are already working in Russia, he said. "However, I do not expect any major sharp actions such as mass deportations ... against such foreigners in the near future," he said. "It is more likely that the authorities will wait for some time, may be for a half-year, to see how the new laws work, and only then will start a strict enforcement campaign."
Postal notifications may be convenient but may prove unreliable if they get lost along the way to the migration office, he said. Going to a local police office for registration, which remains an option, will hopefully work more quickly because "theoretically, it is only necessary to obtain a police receipt on a copy of [the applicant's] notice, but nobody knows this exactly," he said. The authorities will have to issue additional rules on the technicalities, he said.
The process of obtaining a work permit used to have three complicated stages, and the new one-stage rule is "clearly a benefit" for most CIS citizens, said Tim Carty, a partner at Ernst & Young's Moscow office.
Work permit quotas for non-CIS foreigners were being cut for 2007, he noted. "On the face of it, [the changes] would seem to be a negative, but certain, as yet undefined, key industry sectors and types of position are to be exempted from these guidelines, so it could be that this infers a liberalization in the regime, rather than a tightening," he wrote in an e-mail response.
The other thing to bear in mind is that the penalties for immigration violations are now significantly heavier, he said. "Therefore, the current change in the rules, which seems always to generate a period of uncertainty as both foreigners and the authorities work out how the new regime will function, does cause a bit of a worry as the price of getting it wrong is now a lot higher," he said.
By Tai Adelaja and Anatoly Medetsky