Russia: No more work permits for St. Petersburg

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In August of 2008, work permit quotas for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast administrative region were reached, resulting in difficulties for many foreign managers and employees in the area.

Only the Federal Migration Service in Moscow can decide to increase work permit quotas; local authorities are unable to help the long lines of individuals and HR managers flooding migration offices.

At a roundtable discussion on 24 September 2008 organized by the American Chamber of Commerce, Sergei Smirnov, deputy head of immigration issues for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast, said a decision should be reached at the end of the month or the beginning of October on whether to increase the quotas. Smirnov stated that another 105,000 permits for St. Petersburg were needed.

According to a panel of migration service and employment center representatives, the quota situation was a result of differing rules for foreign workers from countries within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) compared to those from other nations. The CIS is a political entity made up of a number of former Soviet countries such as Russia and Ukraine.

Foreign workers from CIS countries may apply for work permits directly to the migration service, without the need to go through their employer. Foreign workers from outside the CIS must have their employer apply for their work permits.

Employers who wish to hire foreign workers from outside the CIS must apply through the St. Petersburg's Employment Center for the right to do so. There is no quota for the number of employers who are granted the ability to hire third-country nationals, so many companies applied for, and were granted, permission to hire foreign workers months ago.

However, when it came time to fill positions, they discovered that there were no work permits available.

Tamara Mikhailova, HR director at the Nevskij Palace hotel, highlighted the vagueness of Russian labor laws and other bureaucratic difficulties in hiring foreign labor.

"The laws are not clear enough -- they are not specific," Mikhailova said during an interview after the roundtable discussion.

"There is also a contradiction between contract terms and immigration regulations," she added. "We might be prepared to offer an employee a 5-year contract, but we cannot, because the work permit is only valid for one year. To keep in line with the labor laws, we are forced to terminate the employee's contract when the work permit expires, and hire them again straight away. This creates a huge amount of extra bureaucracy for us, because we have to prepare all the paperwork for their contract all over again."

Mikhailova said it was difficult to plan for a worker's period of employment when applying for permission to hire foreigners. She stated that it was impossible to know what an employee's family situation was or how to predict such details years in advance.

"We only have a few foreign members of staff, and I can't imagine how difficult it must be for companies who have many foreign employees," she said.