Disease Tests Enforced for Expats

The Federal Migration Service has abruptly canceled an informal arrangement that allowed hundreds of foreigners to avoid mandatory tests for leprosy, syphilis and four other diseases when applying for work permits.

The migration service has required foreigners to be tested for the six diseases Ч HIV, chlamydia, chancre, tuberculosis, syphilis and leprosy Ч since July 2005. But after intense lobbying by the American Chamber of Commerce, it relaxed the rule in late 2005 for the group's more than 800 member companies, requiring their foreign staff to take only HIV tests.

The chamber said Tuesday that an agreement with the Federal Migration Service had been struck down by the Health and Social Development Ministry.

Ending the arrangement promises to create a major headache for hundreds of companies, and the additional red tape could discourage investors already worried about the global economic turndown.

Migration officials announced the change in notices posted this week on the walls of its offices around Moscow, said Alexei Filippenkov, director of Visa Delight, an agency that helps companies obtain work permits.

The notice says all work permit applicants need to provide all medical certificates from Monday, said Yulia Barbash, a specialist at Vista Foreign Business Support.

The American Chamber of Commerce said that it would push for a return to the relaxed testing regime.

"What happened is that the Health Ministry overruled the Federal Migration Service," Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, said Tuesday evening. "The chamber will make every effort to restore the status quo because we consider this requirement to be inconsistent with international standards."

A spokeswoman for the Federal Migration Service declined to comment and referred all questions to the Health and Social Development Ministry. Questions sent by fax at the ministry's request went unanswered Tuesday.

In addition to the six diseases, all foreigners will now be required to take a test for drug addiction, the migration service said in the notice.

The agreement with the American Chamber of Commerce was unofficial and based on talks between Somers and the Federal Migration Service, Filippenkov said. "If you read the law regarding permits, you will find that there are no exceptions for anyone or any organization," he said.

"You need to just go to Mr. Somers and ask him, 'How did you do it?' and 'Please do it again,'" Filippenkov added, joking.

Signs of a reversal had been looming. Filippenkov said one of his client companies, a member of the American Chamber of Commerce, was inspected by the Federal Migration Service two months ago and denied work permits for four employees until they provided the full range of medical certificates.

It was unclear whether the change would be applied retroactively.

"We hope that if these demands continue, at the very least there will be an agreement that [HIV] certificates issued earlier will be accepted," Barbash said. Some of her agency's clients have submitted only HIV certificates and are now abroad.

Under the rules, applicants must be tested in private or state clinics in Russia or, if they do the tests abroad, get the results translated into Russian and notarized. But test results issued in 25 countries, including Italy, Finland, the Baltic states and China, are not accepted.