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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreign Visitors Face New Controls

In a continuing effort to tighten up migration policy, the State Duma has given preliminary approval to a bill expanding the grounds for denying entry to foreign nationals or expelling them from the country.

The bill, which also establishes new visa categories, consists of amendments to the existing law on entering and leaving Russia. The legislation passed 340-0 in a first reading Friday.

"The aim of the legislation was not to make everything as easy as possible. Its main aim was to protect the citizens of the Russian Federation and the state," the bill's author, Duma Deputy Nikolai Ovchinnikov, said by telephone Monday.

Some of the new criteria for expelling foreigners or denying them entry are based on the law on foreigners, which took effect Oct. 31, while others are new altogether. The legislation was developed with input from an interministerial working group headed by Kremlin deputy chief of staff Viktor Ivanov, a former KGB officer and a long-time colleague of President Vladimir Putin.

Under the proposed rules, foreigners legally residing in or visiting Russia could be kicked out if they are deemed to pose "a real threat to the state's defense capabilities and security, to public order or to public health." Such decisions would be made by the Interior Ministry, but the procedure for making them has yet to be determined. Foreigners who have been ordered to leave on these grounds would have three days to do so.

If identified ahead of time, foreigners who pose such a security risk would not be allowed to enter the country at all. Also banned would be those who fail to prove that they have enough money to support themselves while in Russia; those convicted of intentionally committing a crime during a previous stay here; those who have been deported from the country; and those whose presence in Russia is "undesirable."

A procedure for determining "undesirability" has not yet been established, Ovchinnikov said.

Categories of foreign visitors who could be denied entry, but would not be banned automatically, include drug addicts and people with infectious diseases that could pose a public health risk. They also include foreigners who have been called to account for administrative violations -- such as traffic tickets or disturbing the peace -- on Russian territory two or more times within a three-year period, and those who have had some restrictions imposed on them as a result of convictions in Russia or abroad.

Ovchinnikov predicted that a significant number of changes would be introduced before the bill reaches the critical second reading and that, if it is passed, a raft of bylaws would be needed to set up mechanisms for implementation.

If the bill becomes law, it could mean inconveniences for foreigners who live in Russia for more than half a year at a time and hope to make their lives easier by getting the new temporary residence permits introduced by the law on foreigners.

Temporary residence can be granted for a three-year term to eligible foreigners planning to be in Russia longer than 90 days. But, under the proposed legislation, the visas required for those seeking such permits fall into the single-entry category; therefore, each time temporary residents leave Russia, they would have to get new visas to come back.

The proposed legislation establishes five types of visas: regular, transit, temporary residence, diplomatic and official (for staff of foreign missions and members of official delegations without diplomatic status). While four of these types already exist, the temporary residence visa is a new category introduced to conform with the law on foreigners, which does not include concrete provisions on visas.

The "regular" visas are further broken down into eight types: business, study, private, tourist, tourist group, work and refugee visas and visas for cultural, political, athletic, religious and scholarly or scientific exchange, pilgrimage and charity work or humanitarian aid deliveries.

The bill also splits visas into single-entry, double-entry and multi-entry with respective terms of three months, six months and two years. However, foreigners with multi-entry visas, despite the two-year term, would not be allowed to stay in Russia for more than six months at a time; they would have to leave and re-enter the country.

On an optimistic note, the bill attempts to stimulate tourism by waiving visas for foreign tourists who come to Russia for less than 72 hours on cruises.

Meanwhile, various federal agencies are gradually implementing provisions of the law on foreigners. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on Monday ordered the Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Federal Security Service, Federal Border Service and Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information to create a database of all foreigners on Russian territory, RIA-Novosti reported. A week earlier, the government issued an order establishing the form of the new migration cards that all foreigners will be required to fill in upon arrival and carry with them at all times.

 Prosecutors have discovered more than 600 Russian passports issued to foreigners illegally, Deputy Prosecutor General Valery Fomichev told Interfax.

Fourteen criminal cases have been opened in five regions, including the Moscow and Tver regions, Fomichev said Friday. It was not clear what time period the cases covered.

Fomichev said police staff who handle passport issues were among those under investigation, on suspicion of bribe-taking, forgery and abuse of office. He also said prosecutors have exposed a number of companies and individuals who advertised their services in helping get citizenship or residency registration.

Fomichev cited one case in which Moscow police responsible for passports and visas illegally issued passports to 45 citizens of former Soviet republics.