Russian Officials Debate Immigration Reforms

October 24, 2013
Photo: Vladimir Burnov / ITAR-TASS

Following weeks of alarming inter-racial violence, including anti-minority riots in Moscow, the Interior Minister and the head of the Federal Migration Service spoke with legislators in the State Duma about possible immigration reforms. Some of the suggestions were practical, and not dissimilar from other countries’ systems. Some of the talk, however, was more focused on placing blame and spreading conspiracy theory. Of particular note, however, is the quote in the first paragraph that suggests members of Putin’s party may want to avoid the issue all together if they can.

It’s also worth noting today’s headline (in English) from the Moscow Times. According to the report, President Vladimir Putin does not think visa regimes are a realistic expectation, “because the corruption that we have discussed here will be transferred from street markets to the border.” – Ed.

It is necessary to make it a criminal offence for employers to hire illegal migrants and to reduce the length of stay for foreigners who can stay in the Russian Federation without a visa. Such proposals were made during the Government Hour in the State Duma, where in the wake of the Biryulyovo riots, deputies invited the heads of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Konstantin Romodanovsky and Vladimir Kolokoltsev, as well as the Vice-Mayor in charge of safety, Alexander Gorbenko. However, based on the report, United Russia urged deputies “not to escalate” the immigration issue.

Vladimir Kolokoltsev started by trying to justify actions by his staff. “I strongly disagree with the assertion that we have not made the necessary conclusions from the series of similar incidents in Kondopoga, Sagra, Pugachev and other regions,” said the head of the Interior Ministry, trying to head off possible accusations against the police, that, however, were never voiced in the State Duma. Mr. Kolokoltsev noted that the staff numbers are being reduced, including in Moscow with its millions of inhabitants, and, for example, a neighborhood police officer “has to work 16 hours a day” to perform the tasks he’s charged with.

To address the issues of immigration, Mr. Kolokoltchev suggested that, first of all, “responsibility of those who rent out apartments must be reconsidered, and that relates to both businessmen and individuals.” “This is not a normal situation, when some local residents take to the streets, protesting against too many migrants, and others rent out their apartments to these migrants, turning them into mini-dormitories,” said the Interior Minister. Also, Mr. Kolokoltsev called for “strengthening the responsibility for resale of quotas for foreign citizens entitled to work in the country.” He believes that such measures will give migrants “the opportunity to become eligible for health care and other social services.”

Konstantin Romodanovsky, the head of the FMS, came to the State Duma with much more radical proposals. For example, he favors a ban on resale of quotas: “Of the 260,000 work permits issued this year in the metropolitan area, more than half were then transferred or resold.” Mr. Romodanovsky called the quota arrangement “a cornerstone in our migration trend,” that “needs a radical modernization.” However, he did not elaborate on how exactly such modernization should be carried out.

The head of the FMS suggested to introduce criminal liability for employers for illegal employment of migrants (currently it is considered an administrative offense). In addition, he finds it necessary to reduce the length of stay of foreigners in Russia, as well as to streamline the rules of re-entry into the Russian Federation. Now by law a visitor who does not require a visa can stay in the Russian Federation for no more than 90 days (the day before, the United Russia Duma deputies introduced a bill that reduces this period to 45 days). At the same time, the head of the FMS stressed that once that period expires, a foreign national can “return immediately,” just by simply crossing the border again. “One in ten foreigners uses this mechanism, said Mr. Romodanovsky. We propose that such a reentry was possible only after six months. Incidentally, this is in line with international standards.”

The Vice Mayor Alexander Gorbenko abstained from addressing legislators. Not least because, according to their statements, they didn’t really insist. For example, the leader of the LDPR faction, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, believes that “the deputies cannot blame Sobyanin,” and what happened in Biryulyovo is a “legacy” of the former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Mr. Zhirinovsky reminded that the notorious Cherkizovsky market was owned by Telman Ismailov, a close associate of the former mayor. The LDPR leader is confident that the conflict in Biryulyovo was “ordered” by some forces, just like the “Orange Revolution.” “It is beneficial to certain political forces,” Zhirinovsky shouted from the podium. According to him, in this case the names of the beneficiaries were written on the sheets that he was holding in his hands. He was ready to show these sheets to Kolokoltsev and Romodanovsky, “so that they know,” but refused to disclose the names of those people to the rest of the deputies. According to Valery Gartung of [the political party] Just Russia, the true reason of what happened in Biryulyovo is not an ethnic conflict, but “corruption and lack of fair courts.”

And the leader of the United Russia faction, Vladimir Vasiliev, urged “not to escalate” the migration issue, assuring that the applicable laws do “work.”