Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Changing Visa Rules Creating Hassles

Expats, tourists and companies with foreign employees face a few more visa and registration hurdles that promise to create more paperwork -- and headaches.

The new rules, which came into force over the past couple of weeks, appear to be an attempt to keep closer track of foreigners, particularly the large number from other former Soviet republics who live and work illegally in Russia.

Officials responsible for visa and registration regulations are notoriously inaccessible to the media, and none could be reached for comment about the new rules. But lawyers and visa agencies, whose livelihoods depend on understanding the rules, explained the changes. Many of them spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to antagonize the authorities.

The simplest and perhaps least-welcome change is in registration. Expatriates and tourists staying in a private apartment now need a letter of permission from their landlord and anyone else registered in the flat.

The landlord has to go to the local maintenance department, known by its Russian acronym DEZ, and get the document officially stamped. The rules leave it unclear whether just the landlord or all the people registered in the apartment have to go to the DEZ office.

Getting the DEZ stamp could be difficult -- DEZ offices are known for keeping erratic hours, and one visa agent said a client -- a landlord -- recently went to his local DEZ office and learned that no one there was aware of the new rules.

This change was prompted by numerous cases of people being registered in apartments where they never lived and without the knowledge of those actually registered there, said a representative of Infinity Travel, which offers visa services.

"They're probably just trying to track foreigners more closely and are looking for tax revenues," another visa agent said.

A second new rule is that a foreigner must register his place of residence at the OVIR office handling passports and visas nearest to his apartment. Before, foreigner registrations were handled at the central OVIR office. Local OVIR offices are housed in local police stations, and they previously only dealt with registering foreign students.

This promises to create a logistical nightmare for companies with large foreign staffs. For example, a company with 50 foreign employees previously was able to take all the documents to one place, the central office on Ulitsa Pokrovka. Now it has to visit an untold number of local OVIR offices.

Complicating matters, the registration -- which is issued for a maximum of six months at a time for all visas but work visas -- is now being stamped on the migration card that everyone fills out when arriving in Russia. This means that those with business visas have to get re-registered every time they leave and return to Russia, as border officials remove the migration card every time foreigners leave the country.

"For a businessman who perhaps leaves and goes back to Russian 50 times a year, this is a problem," said Sergei Melnikov, a lawyer at the law firm Your Lawyer.

The Russian Embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands, recommends that foreigners avoid this hassle by keeping photocopies of their migration cards in their passport that they can give border officials when they leave the country.

Two other new rules -- these involving one-year multi-entry business visas and tourist visas -- also will create difficulties for foreigners, but they appear to be part of a drive to adopt international standards. The authorities are trying to make sure that a foreigner carrying one type of visa is in Russia doing exactly what that visa entitles him to.

As such, a foreigner working here must have a work visa -- not a one-year multi-entry visa as in years past. Those with one-year multi-entry visas -- which are for business travelers -- can no longer stay in the country longer than 180 days in one stretch. So foreigners used to going once a year to renew their visas now have to leave and then re-enter the country at least every six months.

A reason the work visa was shunned was because it typically takes four months to obtain --an unacceptable delay for many businesses. The visa also is single entry, meaning a foreigner cannot leave the country and return later with the same visa. Furthermore, it requires that the holder apply for an exit permit 45 days in advance of his planned departure.

The authorities now are promising to give foreigners with work visas the documentation needed to come and go as many times as they want within 20 days of their arrival.

As for travelers with tourist visas, they now must also go through the registration rigmarole -- the DEZ letter and a visit to the local OVIR office, or pay a tourist agency to do this. The rule does not apply to tourists staying at hotels.

"They [the rules] are just not suitable for foreign tourists," a travel agency official said. "I feel sorry for people who have to do this."