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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Get Beyond Arbitrary Bureaucracy

A freeze on work permits for Moscow expatriates is unlikely to result in significant repercussions for the foreign investment climate. But it is this kind of headache that raises questions about the government's commitment to promoting foreign investment. Companies that employ foreign staff abruptly learned last week that the Federal Labor and Employment Service's Moscow offices had stopped accepting applications for work permits. The problem is that Moscow has only 8,000 spots left before it reaches its annual quota of 100,000 permits for visa-carrying foreigners. Steps are now being taken to restart the issuance of the permits and raise the quota above 100,000 -- a process that is expected to take at least three weeks.

In the meantime, however, law-abiding companies are being penalized over what can only be described as obtuse bureaucracy.

This is nothing new for investors who have stuck by Russia through the turmoil of the past 15 years. But it is also an all-too-familiar story for investors who have entered Russia in just the last two years. In July 2005, the migration service started requiring foreigners to be tested for six diseases, including leprosy, syphilis and chlamydia, to obtain work permits. Moreover, the tests had to be carried out at state clinics, which are often underfunded and poorly equipped. Tests for HIV, one of the six diseases, had been required for foreign residents for years, but the new additions sparked an outcry. Within three weeks, migration authorities had included private clinics on the list of places where the tests could be taken. By year's end, they had waived all but HIV tests for the employees of scores of foreign companies. The staff of many other companies, however, still must be tested for the six diseases.

The diseases mishap overlapped with an autumn of chaos when the migration service introduced the Russian-language migration card, inexplicably replacing a version in both Russian and English. The dual-language card eventually was brought back, but only after months of needless grief for foreigners who could not read Russian.

More recently, the migration service started monitoring foreigners' movements more closely by requiring notification for travel abroad or extended domestic trips. The new rules, of course, were far from clear when they were first announced in January, sowing confusion among foreigners for weeks.

Sure, authorities have every right to keep tabs on visitors and ensure that they do not start, say, a leprosy epidemic. But it is hard enough attracting and retaining skilled workers without the added layer of seemingly arbitrary bureaucracy. Why are foreigners living here required to undergo a slew of medical tests while visitors are not? Is the tourist or business traveler less likely to carry an infectious disease? In fact, it is the foreigner living here who has a vested interest in Russia's development. It is this foreigner who can make a real contribution to the economy -- if he or she can get a work permit.