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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreigners to Get Their Very Own Law

One of the 28 bills that senators pushed through the Federation Council this week in a rush to go on summer vacation was a controversial bill bringing together a hodgepodge of regulations on foreigners into a single law.

The bill, which is to replace a 1981 law and numerous bylaws and instructions, is part of a government program to curb illegal immigration and regulate the employment of foreigners, mainly from the countries of the former Soviet Union.

The legislation introduces a federal quota for temporary residence permits, which the Cabinet will have to determine every year, a federal database to track foreigners, and a new immigration form, which everybody will have to fill out when entering Russia and surrender upon departure.

One of the bill's authors, Union of Right Forces Deputy Boris Nadezhdin, said Thursday that the legislation will do little to change the lives of visitors who enter the country with a visa.

But he said it was important to put the mishmash of rules on foreigners into a new law.

"It increases a person's protection from bureaucracy," he said. "Otherwise, if a government official doesn't like you, he could change the regulations."

Legal experts said they were not prepared to comment on the bill. Ernst & Young and the nongovernmental Migration agency, which assists migrants, said they were still reviewing the legislation, which was only passed by the State Duma on June 21.

Nadezhdin said that the bill was first submitted to parliament in 1999 by the LDPR-dominated State Duma's geopolitics committee. He said the draft contained many "paranoid" paragraphs, such as a rule to register every car at the border and a provision for the Federal Security Service to keep a file on every foreigner present in the country. The measures were removed after Nadezhdin took over the project. He said he practically rewrote the draft for the second Duma reading in May.

The 55-page bill does not mention the issuance of visas and pertains to the rules for foreigners once they enter Russia. It upholds the current rule that foreigners must register with the Interior Ministry within three business days upon entry unless they are visiting heads of state, members of official government delegations or navy officers coming ashore for a friendly visit. Foreign diplomats, journalists and officials of accredited international organizations' representative offices register with the Foreign Ministry.

The law establishes two types of residence permits: temporary, which are to be issued for three years, and permanent, which are to be issued for five years and can be renewed an unlimited number of times.

Much of the bill outlines the issuance of temporary residence permits and work permits, which appear to be closely tied together and aimed at regulating immigration from other CIS countries. Both permits are to be issued by Interior Ministry offices.

Despite Nadezhdin's pride about enshrining government regulations into a law, much is still left for federal authorities to determine.

The bill envisions a complicated system of quotas for temporary residence permits. The federal government establishes the quotas after hearing from the regions how many foreign workers they need. The regions are supposed to base their decisions on requests from local employers. Moreover, employers must get permission from the Federal Migration Service to hire foreigners, and the service only gives the thumbs up after the Labor Ministry determines that Russian nationals cannot fill the demand.

When applying for an invitation for a foreigner, the employer will have to deposit a sum that covers the price of the foreigner's ticket home. That money will be used if the foreigner ends up being deported.

Foreigners with temporary residence permits will not be allowed to live in any other region than the one in which they are employed and registered.

Those who invest in Russia are not counted in the quota, as are those married to Russian nationals or those with Russian dependents. The amount of the needed investment is to be determined by the Cabinet.

Permits can be revoked if a foreigner is a drug addict or has HIV or other "dangerous" diseases, according to the bill, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times. The Cabinet decides which diseases are considered dangerous.

The bill also introduces "migration cards," which appear to be similar to the immigration forms that foreigners fill out upon entering the United States. The form is to be stamped at the border and presented to the police along with a passport when the foreigner applies for registration.

The form is to be surrendered at the border when a foreigner leaves the country.

The bill instructs the government to create a "centralized database" that is protected from "unsanctioned access" to track foreigners.

Lidia Grafova, head of an association advocating migrants rights and a member of a government commission on migration policy, said she had mixed feelings about the bill.

The legislation is long overdue, she said. But on the other hand, lawmakers allowed a number of "legal mistakes" to remain in the bill in their rush to get it approved, she said.

Together with the law on citizenship that went into force July 1, the bill will lock up the country from former Soviet citizens who have found themselves foreigners in Russia, Grafova said.

She particularly expressed concern about Article 37, which gives CIS citizens who have entered Russia without a visa 60 days after the law's enactment to apply to local police offices for migration cards and only 90 days to get residency permits after that. Those who don't apply for the card will become illegal aliens 90 days after the law's enactment.

Grafova said thousands upon thousands of CIS citizens living in the regions have been denied registration for years. "If they have already gone [to the police], suffered a great deal and couldn't get registered, how are they going to get it done in 90 days?" she said.

She predicted that chaos will break out and bribe-taking will soar because the government does not have the cash for mass deportations.

The bill, which was passed Wednesday, now goes to President Vladimir Putin for his signature and will become law three months after being published in the official state newspaper.

Also Wednesday, the Federation Council urged the Cabinet to propose in the fall a bill allowing the regions not only to establish quotas for immigration but to deport "certain categories of citizens" from conflict zones, Interfax reported.