Bill seeks to attract foreign bankers
The Moscow Times, 14 July 2009
The State Duma will consider legislation to eliminate work permits for foreigners employed in the financial sector and extend their visas to five years as it presses ahead with a pre-crisis drive by the Kremlin to turn Moscow into a world financial center.
So eager is the bill's author to attract the best investment bankers and stock brokers that she wants to include their parents as candidates for the five-year visas in the legislation, which was submitted to the Duma on Monday.
"We really need this law if Moscow wants to become a world financial center," said the author, Kira Lukyanova, a deputy with A Just Russia.
"If the bill is passed, we may think of expanding the eased visa and work permit regulations to other sectors where many foreigners work," Lukyanova told The Moscow Times.
She said the bill would probably come up for a first reading in the Duma's fall session. The Duma will adjourn for the summer on Friday.
The bill, titled "On changing some of the laws with an aim of strengthening the human resources potential of the investment and financial sphere of Russia," would apply to foreigners working in banks, insurance companies, nongovernmental pension funds, companies managing mutual, investment and nongovernmental funds, specialized depositories and the securities market.
No work permits will be required for the foreigners, but their employers would have to notify the Federal Migration Service and send documents verifying their qualifications, such as university diplomas, according to the bill, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times. The employees would be eligible to get a work visa for five years, up from the current one year for all expatriate workers.
"To limit potentially illegal immigration, a special list of countries whose citizens are eligible for such visas will be created in coordination with government officials," Lukyanova said, adding that European Union countries and the United States would be on the list.
"We would be glad to have no list, but we are suggesting it to get approval from the authorities," she said.
However, all foreign banks working in Russia, regardless of the country or origin, would be eligible for the new visa rules, she said.
President Dmitry Medvedev talked up his proposal to turn Moscow into a world financial capital over the first half of last year, including at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2008. But Medvedev conceded in March that the "great, ambitious" plan was no longer "Task No. 1" because of the economic crisis.
Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, called the legislation "revolutionary."
"This is a revolutionary approach to foreign specialists working in Russia, a radically new approach, and an absolutely shocking thing for us," he said. "The business summit between Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev must have played its role as Russia and the U.S. are trying to put business as a cornerstone of the efforts to normalize the relationship."
U.S. President Obama visited Moscow last week for a three-day visit that included a business conference of U.S. and Russian business leaders.
Lukyanova said she hoped to insert additional initiatives into the bill between the first and second readings, including a softening of mandatory medical tests for HIV and six other diseases.
"I want to make it possible for foreigners to get all the necessary medical certificates verifying that they are not infected with HIV and other diseases in their home countries," Lukyanova said. "The list of diseases itself must be shortened, too."
Currently, many foreigners are required to get the medical tests in Russia.
"We also want to expand the list of relatives that the foreigners can bring with them when they come to work in Russia, so that they can bring their moms and dads," Lukyanova said.
Work to tailor the bill to fit companies' needs began in February, when the Association of European Businesses, the Association of Russian Banks and other business associations received a draft of the bill.
"We have taken all their thoughts into account and are still open to suggestions from the businesses," Lukyanova said.
The removal of the work permit requirement would remove a major headache for companies. Foreigners now can only obtain the one-year work visa if they have work permits.
"So if an employee wants to hire a foreigner now, he can't do it until next year because the application for the quota for the number of foreign employees at a firm has to be filed before May 1, and the application for the work permit can only be filed in January," said Alexei Filipenkov, commercial director with Visa-Delight, a firm that helps foreigners obtain visas and work permits.
"With the new bill, financial sector employees would be able to begin to work almost immediately," Filipenkov said.
Quotas are one of the most common problems for companies with foreign personnel because a company looking to hire, for example, a British national can only apply for a quota on British nationals at the start of every year.
The Federal Migration Service said it fully supported the bill.
"If it makes life easier for highly qualified foreign workers and will help Moscow attract more investment, why not?" said spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin.
He said, however, that his agency would insist on the creation of the list of countries whose citizens are eligible for the softened rules.
Poltoranin expressed hope that the new rules could be expanded to other sectors, like mining, oil and gas.
Poltoranin said the financial sector accounted for just 1 percent to 2 percent of legally employed foreigners in Russia.