Work visas and work permits
Before a foreign national can work in Russia as an employee, both a work visa (except "visa-free” nationals) and a work permit must be obtained. A work visa differs from a business visa in that a work visa allows a foreign national to be employed in Russia for one year (or up to three in the case of Highly Qualified Specialists — see below), while a business visa merely confers the right to visit for business purposes. Work permits for foreign employees are issued through the employer by the Federal Migration Service (FMS).
In Moscow and some other regions, the procedure for obtaining a work visa may be different for a Russian company and for a branch or representative office of a foreign company. A Russian company must be registered with the FMS in order to invite foreign nationals. This option is also available for a branch or representative office of a foreign company. Another option for a branch or representative office is to obtain a work permit and work visa simultaneously, due to the fact that the latter is processed by the relevant accreditation authority.
Work permits — normal procedure
A Russian company, or the branch or representative office of a foreign company can employ a foreign national only if:
• The employer has obtained a permit to employ foreign nationals
• In the case of "visa nationals" (i.e. foreign nationals requiring a visa), the employer has obtained an individual work permit for the employee ("visa-free" nationals are covered below)
The requirement to obtain a work permit does not apply to certain categories of foreign employee, for example, employees of foreign equipment manufacturers who are performing installation services in Russia, journalists, etc. This requirement also does not apply to the employees from Kazakhstan and Belarus.
The work permit process for a visa national is often bureaucratic and time-consuming, including the following stages:
• A quota for employing foreign nationals (although some work positions, such as the head of a representative office, fall outside the quota requirement)
• Confirmation from a local Employment Centre
• Permission from the FMS
• Individual work permits for each foreign national
Visa-free nationals may obtain a special patent from the Russian migration authorities. Such a patent should be obtained within one month of arrival in Russia. Patenta are granted for a period from 1 month to 1 year. During this period an individual may legally stay and work in Russia and no additional documents need to be obtained.
A further bureaucratic requirement is that foreign nationals must be registered with the migration authorities within 7 working days of arrival in Russia (or arrival at a new location within Russia for a stay of more than 7 days). Employers risk heavy fines in the event of a default. Deregistration is done by the FMS when the foreign national crosses the Russian border, or registers in a new location in Russia.
Work permits — highly-qualified specialists (HQS)
There is a simplified system for HQS. HQS are defined as foreign nationals with experience, skills or achievements in a particular area who receive remuneration from their local employment of no less than RUB 2 million per annum, and half of that amount for certain scientists and teachers. No lower limit applies to foreign nationals working in the Skolkovo Innovation Centre.
Eligible employers include Russian legal entities, registered branches and representative offices of foreign legal entities, health and educational institutions (except religious institutions) and other organisations dealing with innovations, R&D, high-tech, etc.
The benefits of the HQS procedure include:
• No quota restrictions
• 14 working days for the approval/rejection of an application
• Work permit validity of up to 3 years (and possible extension for a further 3 years)
• Work permit may be valid in more than one region of Russia
• Eligible dependents include children’s and parents’ spouses, grandparents and grandchildren
• Exemption from the registration requirement on arrival in Russia for a visit of up to 90 days (or up to 30 days at another location(s) within Russia)
The employer of the HQS has various obligations to notify the relevant migration authority concerning the employment and granting or annulment of the work permit and the individual’s quarterly remuneration.
Starting from 1 January 2015 most foreign employees (except for HQS and certain other categories of employees) will be obliged to confirm their knowledge of Russian language, history and law in order to obtain or renew a work permit. A foreign employee will have to submit to the migration authorities either a Russian school or high school diploma or a current special certificate confirming the required knowledge (these will be valid for five years). This must be done within 30 days of the work permit’s issuance, failing which, the permit will be cancelled.