Armenian Expat Workers Face Tougher Russian Rules
Changes to Russian migration laws that mean foreigners without work permits can only stay in the country for three months at time have alarmed the many Armenians who travel there for work.
Amendments which came into force on January 1 require foreign nationals who do not have extended visas to leave Russia at the end of every 90-day period, and remain in their home country for the same amount of time. Breaking the rules can result in a three-year entry ban.
Until now, people without extended visas and work permits had to leave every 90 days, but they could then return immediately.
As Narek Grigoryan, 48, explained, “We used to go to Kazakstan or Ukraine for a day, cross the border and then come back. But the new law obliges us to go back to the country we originally came from. That’s no good to us, since it means we’ll have to spend all the money we’ve earned on travel.”
When Grigoryan arrived back in Armenia in mid-January, he was completely unaware of the new rules. As a result, he will have to wait three months before returning to the Russian city of Penza, where he has a car and is owed a large amount of back pay.
Sasun Gyulnazaryan, 55, back in Armenia after a spell driving a truck in Moscow, says the Russian entry rules make it impractical for him to go there.
“How much would I have to earn to be able to afford to come to Armenia every three months and then go back?” he asked. “Now I’m looking for work here. Of course there aren’t any jobs and things are tough. But at least I’m at home.”
Gagik Yeganyan, head of Armenia’s State Migration Service, said the Russian legislation was designed to stop people remaining long-term without acquiring the proper papers.
“People who lacked residence permits used to cross the border every 90 days and extend their stay. But as we see it, these legal amendments are intended to stop this happening,” he said. “The majority of our citizens [abroad] work in Russia, so we are going to have to encourage them to obtain work permits and sign employment contracts before the 90-day period expires.”
Yeganyan said people could get a work permit by going to the Russian Federal Migration Service with the required documents and pay a fee of 2,000 roubles (about 55 US dollars).
Yeganyan’s deputy Irina Davtyan says an average of 80,000 to 100,000 Armenians go to Russia each year, mostly on a seasonal basis.
“These people stay there for six or seven months and return to their families in Armenia in late autumn. Then they leave again at the beginning of spring,” she told IWPR.
Experts say more than 100,000 households in Armenia depend on money sent home by relatives abroad. The vast majority of labour migrants go to Russia, as they speak the language, do not need visas to travel there, and often have friends or relatives there.
“More than 90 per cent of all people who leave Armenia in search of work go to Russia,” Tatevik Bezhanyan of the Armenian office of People in Need told IWPR.
If the new legislation will deter some from travelling for short stints, it may prompt others to formalise their status in Russia.
Armen Mkrtchyan, 47, used to spend nine months a year working in Moscow, returning home in the winter to be with his wife and children. Now he has decided to move his family to Russia and acquire residence rights and a work permit there.
Mkrtchyan will add to the figures for net emigration from Armenia, which the national statistics office put at 42,000 last year, a fall from around 50,000 in 2012.
Armenia is currently in negotiations to join the Customs Union, a trade grouping that now consists of Russia, Kazakstan and Belarus.
Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan recently indicated that membership might make it easier for Armenians to work in other Customs Union states.
“The Customs Union is more about regulating economic questions than matters like these. But one can’t rule out that something will happen in later discussions, given our partnership with Russia,” he told reporters.
Gayane Mkrtchyan is a reporter for ArmeniaNow.com.