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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Intermediaries Face Ax on Work Permits

Migration authorities are promising to create a new agency to eliminate middlemen who obtain work permits for foreigners in exchange for money.

Federal Migration Service head Konstantin Romodanovsky told a Federation Council hearing that a state unitary enterprise would be set up by July 1 that would offer "all services so far offered by the migration service," Kommersant reported Thursday.

Romodanovsky said at the Wednesday hearing that the move is aimed at rooting out rampant corruption connected with work permits for migrant workers.

It was unclear if the new agency would affect white-collar foreign workers or whether it would work primarily with the millions of manual laborers from neighboring countries. A woman who answered the phone Thursday at the Federal Migration Service said no one was available for comment.

Russian companies hiring white-collar expatriates usually employ private agencies to process paperwork for visas and work permits.

The implications of the announced measure could be significant if the new agency proposed by Romodanovsky were to become the only place to legalize foreign employees.

"There are probably more questions than answers," Peter Reinhardt, a partner at financial services firm Ernst & Young, told The Moscow Times.

Reinhardt added that if current channels were replaced entirely by the new agency, a number of new laws would have to be enacted.

Alexei Filippenkov, head of the Visa Delight agency, agreed. "Current legislation does not allow legalizing foreign employees through any other agency but the migration service," he said.

Romodanovsky said the market for middlemen offering "shadowy" services to migrants was worth more than 30 billion rubles ($931 million) but that the state last year received just 5.8 billion rubles ($180 million) from work permit fees, Kommersant reported.

Russia is home to one of the world's largest migrant populations, second only to the United States, according to the World Bank.

Romodanovsky said authorities issued 4.5 million work permits last year. Migration officials have previously put the number illegal immigrants in the country at 4 million.

Migrant workers typically come from former Soviet republics that have visa-free travel with Russia.

The migration service also said the new agency would significantly reduce the notoriously cumbersome bureaucracy for Russian citizens seeking a passport for foreign travel.

If someone wants to forego the standard 30-day waiting period for a passport, he can go to the new agency and obtain the travel document within three days, service spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin told Kommersant.

Alexandra Odynova contributed to this report.