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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New, Tougher Rules for Business Visas

The government is tightening the screws on foreigners who want to work here full time without a work visa -- and itinerant English teachers look likely to be the first to feel the squeeze.

Multiple-entry business visas, which used to let foreigners stay in Russia for up to one year, will now only allow stays of up to 90 days at a time, according to a decree signed by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Oct. 4.

Under the new rules, such visas will still last one year. But they will only let people stay in Russia for up to 180 days of that year, and for no longer than 90 days at a time. Moreover, if a foreigner stays in Russia for 90 days straight, he or she is then required to leave and not come back until another 90 days have passed.

Zubkov's decree also says foreigners might have to obtain the visas in their native countries -- which implies that U.S. and British expatriates could no longer hop on the train to Kiev for a visa run. But representatives of visa agencies and foreign business lobbies were unsure how that rule would be implemented, and some said it might not apply to Westerners.

What is clear, however, is that expats can no longer stay in Russia endlessly by obtaining multiple-entry business visas and renewing them each year, said Alexei Filippenkov, director of the Visa Delight agency.

"Now, any foreigner who wants to come live here has to either go through the immigration process, and eventually obtain a residence permit, or else find an employer who will prepare a work visa for them," Filippenkov said.

Foreigners with work visas are not affected by the change.

It is unclear whether the new rules will affect foreigners with multiple-entry business visas issued before Zubkov's decree. But Filippenkov said it was unlikely.

Spokespeople for the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Migration Service declined to comment by telephone Friday, saying that all questions had to be submitted in writing. E-mails sent to the agencies were not answered as of Sunday.

The new rules could complicate life for expat English teachers, many of whom have multiple-entry business visas.

"If people have to come for 90 days and then leave, this will be very disruptive for the teaching process," said Helen Panovich, academic director of ITC, a company that hires English-language native speakers to give lessons to Russian businessmen.

Amy Cartwright, a spokeswoman for the Association of European Businesses, said most of AEB's member companies would not be affected because their foreign employees had work visas.

But she singled out expat English teachers as a potential trouble spot. "It's very worrying because it means that if you're a teacher, for example, and if you're on a business visa, you can't stay here," Cartwright said.

AEB has met with representatives of the Federal Migration Service to find out how the rules will be implemented, and one of the open questions is whether expats will have to return to their home country to obtain a business visa, she said.

"We don't have an answer yet, but we have asked them," Cartwright said.

Representatives of visa agencies had different takes on the provision in Zubkov's decree about returning to one's home country for a visa.

Timur Beslangurov, managing director of Vista Foreign Business Support, said foreigners would be able to obtain visas in the Russian embassy of any country as long as they could present a residence permit for that country, or at least some document proving that they had the right to live there for 90 days.

Filippenkov, of Visa Delight, said the provision about returning to one's home country did not apply to Westerners and was instead directed at countries like China, Turkey and India.

Russian embassies are notoriously inconsistent in their approach to issuing visas. In the past, it has often taken several months to see how rule changes are implemented.

Zubkov's decree puts Russia on the same footing as many Western countries, which also draw a distinction between visas designed for short visits and visas that grant one the right to work.

U.S. citizens who visit Britain, for example, are allowed to stay for up to six months, but they get a stamp in their passport stating they are prohibited from working there.

"The government is making things work the same way as they do in America and Europe," Filippenkov said. Russian citizens face the exact same 90- and 180-day restrictions in Germany, he added.

Still, such comparisons have not reassured expats accustomed to the ease of obtaining multiple-entry business visas and daunted by the obstacles of getting Russian work permits.

"What will they think of next?" asked one visitor at RedTape.ru. "Shooting all foreigners? Might be quicker to get rid of us that way!"