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Russia: Rules On Permanent Residence Tightening

A new Russian Interior Ministry order will make it more difficult for residents of CIS states to live permanently in Russia. Officials say the new rules have a logical base, but some non-Russian CIS residents say the rules could be applied arbitrarily and make it much more difficult for them to live in Moscow, a magnet for Russians and non-Russians alike.

Moscow, 28 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Beginning on October 1, the process for nationals from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to acquire permanent residence status in Russia will become more difficult. Eventually, it will be as hard for CIS nationals to live in Russia as it is for foreigners from any other country.

The stricter rules were announced today in Moscow by a city law-enforcement official who quoted a federal Interior Ministry order. The legal base of the unpublished rules is unclear. But CIS residents say they have every reason to worry about the change since Moscow authorities in the past have been arbitrary in implementing the existing temporary residency rules.

A month ago (Aug 31), Russian authorities announced they were considering re-instituting a visa process for visitors from CIS countries.

Vladimir Ivanov, the head of the Moscow passport and visa department -- known as UVIR -- said today that the Interior Ministry order is intended to align permanent residency rules for citizens of Commonwealth of Independent States with those imposed on foreigners from non-CIS countries.

Until now, the rules for what is called a "near-abroad" foreigner -- from, say, Kazakhstan or Armenia -- to reside permanently in Russia were more lax than the rules for, say, a U.S. citizen.

Ivanov explains what the new rules mean for a typical CIS citizen:

"[He or she] arrives and wants to stay here permanently. If everything goes the way it was written in this order, then we have to treat him like [someone from] the 'far abroad' (eds: non-CIS foreigners). Buying a living space [an apartment] is not grounds for a U.S. citizen to receive permanent residency here."

In the past, CIS residents were allowed to get permanent residency on the basis of having a Russian apartment. But starting next month, Russia will grant a permanent residency permit only on the basis of marriage with a Russian national -- plus a place to live.

Ivanov says CIS nationals who want to live permanently in Russia will have to choose between a Russian passport or the harsher residency rules. He says, though, the rules will not be made retroactive and the 200,000 CIS permanent residents in Moscow at the moment will be granted the new status automatically.

Ivanov says the rules correspond to how Russian nationals are treated in Ukraine and Belarus if they choose to reside permanently in those countries.

He also says they will help police, especially in Moscow, to fight crime. He says about 30 percent of Moscow's crime is committed by non-Muscovites -- repeating an argument often used by law-enforcement organs to justify raids on foreign-looking people.

But Ivanov says CIS nationals now living in the capital on what he called a "temporary basis" will not see any change. Temporary residency is granted according to a complex system of written and unwritten rules.

Despite Ivanov's assurances, the rules concern only those who wish to stay "permanently" in Moscow, some CIS nationals are already worried.

Georgy Merkvilishvili, a Georgian television correspondent in Moscow, says the city already has a bad track record concerning treatment of non-Muscovites.

"Refugees from Abkhazia or my countrymen that came here to Moscow or Russia. They arrived in Moscow to make money or to study, or [because they're] sick and are seeking treatment. They all need to register -- and that process is made very difficult."

Merkvilishvili says residency-permit rules are being implemented arbitrarily. Often bribes are the only way to get the registration papers that make a non-Muscovite a "legal" resident. He says there are no guarantees the rules will be implemented fairly.

Human rights organizations for years have been fighting Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's temporary residency rules for Russian citizens. Organizations claim the rules try to limit the number of people living in the capital, which is a magnet for many Russians and CIS residents.

Local "passport offices" refuse registration, thereby making the person an illegal in Moscow and subject to police harassment.

The Russian Constitutional Court has ruled several times in the case of Russian citizens that the temporary residency rules are anti-constitutional.

Moscow's latest attempt came a year ago. In the aftermath of a series of apartment bombings widely blamed on Chechens, Luzhkov issued two decrees that gave police the right to expel non-Moscow residents who had failed to register or re-register.

A Moscow city court ruled again this week (Monday) that the decrees violated the Russian Constitution.

Ivanov also confirmed today that the Moscow city council is planning to start an experimental registration for people entering the city at the Riga train station. It was unclear whether registration could be refused and what would happen to the rejected people.