Duma Committee Calls for Reform of Foreign Specialist Permits

MTEasing immigration rules is a key step toward modernizing the country and improving its investment climate.

Russia is ready to simplify its migration legislation to attract foreign specialists — without whom modernization would be impossible.

The State Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee on Tuesday recommended that the legislature pass in its second reading amendments to the law on the legal status of foreigners. The document was submitted by the government and approved in a first reading in February.

The amendments have been substantially modified for the second reading, said Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the committee. The changes concern the rules for admitting highly qualified specialists — this was done by order of President Dmitry Medvedev for the development of innovative projects.

Highly qualified foreigners will receive work permits outside of the Federal Migration Service's quota system; a written request will be sufficient, according to the legislation, a copy of which was obtained by Vedomosti. The government will confirm the form of the request, which must be reviewed within 14 days. Currently, work permits take fr om 12 to 23 months to be processed, said a spokesman for the Economic Development Ministry.

The level of qualification of the specialist will be determined by pay. To qualify as such, the pay must exceed 2 million rubles ($67,500) per year. The government would have the right to lower this figure, according to the document. Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina has said lowering the figure would be for those who work in the "innovation city" in Skolkovo, Pligin said.

Work permits for highly qualified specialists will be given out for the entire length of the work contract, but not longer than three years — currently the limit is one year — with no limit on the number of renewals. Simultaneously with the permit, foreign specialists and their families will receive a Russian residence permit.

The tax scheme also will change: Highly qualified nonresidents will be taxed at the same rate as Russians — 13 percent. Currently the level is 30 percent.

The amendments will go into force on Jan. 1, 2011.

The radical simplification of the migration legislation for foreign specialists was proposed by the Economic Development Ministry to improve the country's investment climate. This was a key requirement, a ministry official said: Modernization is impossible without smart personnel.

The migration service prepared the amendments, a Duma deputy said. The service used the experience of Germany, wh ere highly qualified personnel are separated fr om other immigrants according to the size of their income, said Konstantin Poltoranin, a spokesman for the service.

Highly qualified specialists make up only 2 percent to 3 percent of all foreigners getting work permits for Russia, and the law is not connected with the "innovation city" in Skolkovo, he said.

Companies unanimously welcomed the changes. Currently, employers have to send lists of future foreign employees to the Federal Migration Service every year, said Anna Aibasheva, a spokeswoman for Vimpelcom. By May 1, companies already had to send a list of employees that they expected to have in 2011. Vimpelcom has 13 foreign executives, Aibasheva said.

A TNK-BP spokesman said the changes are unlikely to have an effect on the company's operations. The oil firm has a long-term personnel program, and the hiring of highly qualified employees is planned long in advance. In 2008, during a conflict between shareholders of TNK-BP, problems with foreign personnel started with the migration authorities.

The 2 million ruble limit is excessively high, said Alexander Malis, president of Yevroset. Good specialists can be found abroad for 1.5 million rubles a year.

But Yevgeny Reizman, a partner at Baker & McKenzie, said the 2 million ruble lim it was optimal. The amendments will positively affect the abilities of foreigners to work in Russia, he said, and their numbers will grow by a few hundred people. But the cultural attitudes and peculiarities of developing a business in Russia will continue to differ from those that the foreigners are accustomed to, he said.

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