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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Work Permits for Expats for Now

Foreigners applying for work permits in Moscow have been hit with another delay on top of what is already a cumbersome and slow-moving process.

Local branches of the Federal Labor and Employment Service, which is the first stop in the application process, unexpectedly stopped accepting new applications Wednesday, representatives of visa agencies and foreign business groups said.

"There are signs hanging in the employment centers saying that no applications will be accepted until Oct. 1," said Alexei Filippenkov, director of Visa Delight, an agency that helps companies obtain work permits.

The development, which was not announced in advance, means that companies will not be able to hire new foreign employees until at least next month. The delay occurred because Moscow is close to filling its 2007 quota for work permits for citizens of countries that require visas to travel to Russia.

The quota was set at 100,000, and the authorities recently realized that only 8,000 spots remain, with nearly four months left in 2007, people familiar with the situation said. As a result, the employment service has frozen all new applications while the Federal Migration Service decides what to do next.

It was unclear whether applications submitted prior to the freeze would be affected.

"According to our information, [Federal Migration Service] officials are currently counting up the number of work invitation letters that have been processed since the beginning of 2007, so that they can decide whether they have reached their quota," the Association of European Businesses said in a statement. "As far as we are aware, [migration service] officials estimate that they will have completed the process in a month's time."

A spokeswoman for the migration service declined to comment by telephone Friday, saying requests for comment had to be submitted in writing. Questions sent to the agency via e-mail were not answered as of Sunday.

Repeated phone calls to the Moscow branch of the Federal Labor and Employment Service went unanswered Friday afternoon.

The freeze applies to both initial applications for new work permits and applications to extend existing work permits, the Association of European Businesses said.

The delay appears to be the result of a misunderstanding between two branches of the bureaucracy, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, which learned about the problem from its member companies last week.

Apparently, the migration service told the employment service to be careful with the remaining 8,000 spots, and the employment service took that as an order to halt applications altogether, Somers said.

He said AmCham was lobbying the migration service to clarify the situation and, if necessary, to raise the quota for the number of work permits.

"We're in touch with them nearly every day," Somers said.

Raising the quota above 100,000 would require the Moscow branch of the migration service to appeal to the service's national headquarters, and such an appeal is in the works, Filippenkov said.

Whatever happens, the application freeze is another headache for expatriates seeking Russian work permits.

One U.S. citizen who works at a financial services company in Moscow said she had been to three clinics last month to get tested for leprosy, tuberculosis, syphilis, HIV and drug addiction, among other ailments, in order to get her Russian work permit.

She described how the tuberculosis test involved her urinating in a Nescafe jar and giving it to her company's human resources director to take to the clinic.

When told about the freeze on new applications, she said she did not know whether it would affect her own application.

"It would be really interesting to find out," she said. She declined to give her name because she did not know whether her employer had authorized her to speak to the media.

Foreigners who do not require visas to travel to Russia -- a category that mainly comprises citizens of the former Soviet republics -- are unaffected by the development. The quota for work permits that can be issued to these foreigners in Moscow is 750,000, and that limit is still far from being reached, Filippenkov said.