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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Game: Bilk Moscow's Foreigners

Not since a landlord-tenant dispute at the Hammer Center two years ago have I seen Moscowville residents so worked up. The source of the furor is three new Russian regulations:


?In order to take personal books out of the country, a foreigner must now present a detailed catalog of his collection to the Committee on the Export of Publications Abroad. The laborious process requires 11 catagories of information including publisher, place and date of publication, print run, number of pages, volume and the price paid for the book.


?Foreigners bringing personal belongings into Russia must pay a 60 percent import duty on the declared value. The customs committee is now collecting tens of thousands of dollars from foreigners trying to move here with their sofas, stereo and favorite recliner.


?Foreigners must now have a work permit in order to be employed in Russia. Foreigners lacking the document (an accreditation is sufficient) will have their visas denied and could be shipped out at the employer's expense.


The logic behind each of these new regulations is different, but one theme runs through them: The dolphin-in-the-tuna-net theory. It goes like this: Foreigners are being inadvertently swept up in measures intended for foreigners from the former republics. This is nonsense, of course.


Take the personal belongings import tariff, for example. It is the most flagrant case of bilking the foreigner I have seen in the nearly four years I have been in Moscow. How hard would it be to make exceptions for foreigners from non-CIS nations? After all, exceptions are already being made for foreigners with accredited firms.


Does the customs committee really believe that a British business person bringing in his vacuum cleaner is secretly importing it for sale under the guise of personal belongings? Of course not. The underlying rationale is this: the government is broke and foreigners pay their taxes with far greater compliance than Russia's own citizenry.


The customs declaration requirement on books is another case of absurd heavy-handedness at the expense of foreigners. The regulations require you to produce tax statements on all books ? even the Stephen King thriller you bought two years on vacation in France. The people I know who have been through this process say the enforcement varies from lax to disinterested to fascist.


The regulations requiring work permits are so new that it is hard to say what they will mean for foreigners. If run properly, it is a necessary step required by most countries. Potentially, it could end the Klondike era of Moscowville when ambitious foreigners hopped on a plane to come here to find work. Moscow businesses, news bureaus and embassies all now rely on this pool of local talent.


This assumes, however, that permit authorization is managed correctly, efficiently and free of corruption. Forgive me for having doubts. Isn't there already a brisk trade in visas and letters of invitation? It is far more likely that the work permit will be yet another document foreigners buy through unofficial channels because no other realistic outlet exists.


Chalk one up for the tuna fisherman, our new friends over at the Moscow Migration Service. Nobody said a Moscowvillian's life would be easy, but down here with the dolphins, the nets are getting awfully thick.