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16-11-2009, 10:46
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Diploma Rule Adds to Foreigners’ Headaches
16 November 2009
By Anatoly Medetsky

President Dmitry Medvedev urged migration authorities to show more hospitality toward foreigners in his state-of-the-nation address last week, even as those same authorities start enforcing a diploma rule that affects most foreign professionals.

In his Thursday address, Medvedev mentioned visas when he spoke about the need to make working in Russia attractive in order to lure foreign researchers and businesspeople who can commercialize new inventions.

“They must be issued visas quickly and for a long period,” Medvedev said. “We are interested in them, not the other way around.”

In speaking about researchers, Medvedev said officials must simplify the rules for recognizing foreign diplomas.

But migration officials, who have demanded that foreigners supply their diplomas proving their qualifications in order to obtain work permits for the past decade, started in September to also require that the diplomas be submitted with an apostille, a stamp from the foreigner’s Foreign Ministry that certifies the diploma’s authenticity to a foreign government.

Foreign white-collar workers now have to go back to their native countries or otherwise arrange to obtain these stamps.

The Cabinet demanded the use of apostilles in a decree issued back in 2006, said Ksenia Bortnik, coordinator of the migration committee with the Association of European Businesses. Immigration authorities largely overlooked the rule until September, when they began tightening the screws on policy, apparently seeking to make more jobs available to Russians, she said.

Apostilles can take two to eight weeks to get, adding another headache to the cumbersome process of hiring qualified foreign staff for companies investing in Russia, said Lyudmila Shiryayeva, a senior human capital manager at Ernst & Young. “Any delay or new requirement may generate a catastrophe in this complicated process.”

Acquiring apostilles, which does not contradict international rules, also makes the process costlier, she said.

Problems include the fact that some specialists possess unique experience but have no diploma or have education certificates in lieu of diplomas, she said.

The Federal Migration Service required notarized copies of translated diplomas before the new requirement kicked in.

Alexei Filipenkov, a manager at Visa Delight, said the new rule came out of the blue, disrupting the plans of many large and small companies that his visa agency serves.

“Of course, everyone is unhappy because there wasn’t any advance notice,” he said. “Everyone is adapting now.”

He expressed doubt that Medvedev’s mention of visa and work permit difficulties would prompt eased rules for hiring qualified Western staff.

A spokesman for the migration service said it favored simplified rules and would like to see the government shift its policy in that direction. “Our position is very simple: We are against hurdles and burdensome mechanisms, especially for qualified staff,” spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin said.

He said no orders to begin drafting softened rules for researchers had come from the Cabinet or the Kremlin as of Friday afternoon.

The State Duma also backs eased rules for some groups of foreigners. Lawmakers are preparing to consider a bill sponsored by Just Russia Deputy Kira Lukyanova that would facilitate the employment of foreign financiers and investment brokers as part of a Kremlin drive to turn Moscow into a global financial center.

Frank Schauff, head of the Association of European Businesses, said a simpler visa regime would be in everybody’s interests. “We welcome everything moving in the direction of simplifying the visa regime in Russia.”