Foreign Church Workers in Russia Facing New Restrictions
New laws in force since 17 October
M o s c o w – Within less than a year, the number of resident foreigners living in Russia may drop drastically. New Russian visa restrictions that came into force on 17 October 2007 stipulate that persons with six-month or one-year multi-entry visas issued after this date will only be allowed to spend half of their visa period on Russian soil. This means that a six-month visa will only allow for 90 days within the Russian Federation.
It is not likely that these new regulations are directed primarily at Western or Korean church workers, for Russia also hosts hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from China and elsewhere. Yet church workers are also affected and the stipulations may prove a true hardship for church workers with families – for ex. school-aged children – living in Russia.
Government circles can view the new restrictions as an adjustment of Russian law intended to match the stipulations of West European Schengen visas. A 90-day visa for a Russian citizen to visit a Schengen-country such as Germany also allows for only 45 days of actual presence in that or any other Schengen-country.
The primary loophole and source of hope for foreigners is a work permit circumventing the 50% time stipulation. Large Western firms in Russia have long offered their foreign employees work permits. Such permits require a great deal of bureaucratic effort and the payment of high-percentage income taxes. As in the West, permit seekers will need to prove that a national cannot adequately fill their position, etc.
Westerners married to Russian citizens have additional options for achieving long-term residency. Yet this is small comfort to the hundreds of foreign Roman Catholic priests active in Russia.
A specialist working for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Moscow states: “Each case is different. Each case will require individual effort. But we are still waiting on exact information from government offices.” The coming weeks will need to reveal the exact nature of the new demands being placed on church workers.
The popular 30-day tourist visas for visiting Russia are not affected by the new rulings.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 14 November 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-44, 342 words.