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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreigners Could Face a Language Test

If Alexander Krutov gets his way, foreigners in this country may soon have to pass a Russian language test to qualify for a work permit.

"It is the moral obligation of people working in a given country to make an effort to learn its language," Krutov, a State Duma deputy from the Rodina faction of A Just Russia, said Friday.

On Monday, Krutov plans to submit a bill to the lower house that would require foreign workers who arrive with no knowledge of the language to study what he calls "conversational Russian."

Employees of foreign companies would be excluded from the requirement, Krutov said.

But most foreign companies do business in this country via Russian subsidiaries or in cooperation with local partners, whose employees would fall under the new law, Krutov said.

David Herne, a board member at Unified Energy Systems and head of Halcyon Advisors, said Friday that the test "is one of those things that, in isolation, could have a logical rationale."

"But in the context of all the other hoops foreigners have to jump through, it is fairly absurd," Herne said.

The government, the employer, or a combination of both will foot the bill for language instruction, Krutov said, adding that the mechanism for applying for work permits would have to be revised.

Vladimir Pligin, who chairs the Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee, said he supported the idea, but that "we'll have to think more about the sources of financing" for instruction, Kommersant reported Friday.

Alexei Belousov, the commercial director of Capital Group, a construction company, said in e-mailed comments Friday that companies could be expected to foot the bill for highly skilled employees.

"In the case of other employees, such as bricklayers, employers will more likely try to avoid paying for lessons by hiring Russian speakers," Belousov said.

Krutov does not insist that foreign workers become fluent in Russian, just that they be able to function in everyday situations.

"The foreigner should be able to ask how to get to the theater, and how much a loaf of bread costs," Krutov said. "It requires a vocabulary of about 1,200 words."

Krutov denied the move was an attempt to stem the tide of unskilled immigrant workers from former Soviet republics.

"Each year, there are more and more immigrant workers," he said. "They find it hard to adapt, and knowledge of the language will help with their integration into society.

"We don't want enclaves of other nationals living in isolation," Krutov added, insisting that assimilating foreign citizens into mainstream society can help diffuse tensions and increase understanding of other cultures.

"Everyone seems to be for this idea," he said, adding that the Federal Migration Service had given the scheme a thumbs up.

A spokesman for the service on Friday declined to comment on the proposal. "We just follow orders," he said.

But Vyacheslav Postavnin, deputy head of the service, told Kommersant that he supported the idea.

"We come across situations when we have issued work permits to people who don't know the Russian language," Postavnin said in comments published Friday. "This tends to isolate people, to leave them ignorant of the law and to weak integration."

From Jan. 15 to April 30, the Federal Migration Service issued work permits to more than 600,000 foreigners, said a spokeswoman who declined to give her name. More than 1 million permits were issued in 2006, she said.