Migrant Worker Blues

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACentral Asian migrant workers queuing outside the Russian Interior Ministry’s work permit application center on Red Textile Worker Street in St. Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Should Everyone Disappear into the Shadows? What the Fee Increase for Migrant Worker Permits Entails
Yekaterina Ivashchenko
Fergana News
November 29, 2018

The license [in Russian, patent] system for foreign nationals seeking permission to work in Russia was introduced in 2015. The cost of a work permit has varied from one region to the next. In Moscow, for example, it initially cost 4,000 rubles a month. In 2016, the price rose by 5% to 4,200 rubles, and in 2018, it rose by 7% to 4,500 rubles.

It is absolutely necessary to have a work permit. Without it, a migrant worker faces up to 7,000 rubles in fines, expulsion from Russia, and a ban on entering the country for a period of three to ten years. Employers who hire employees without work permits are punishable by fines, and their operations can be suspended for up to ninety days.

Something important happened on November 21, 2018. The Moscow City Duma approved a law bill increasing the cost of a work permit in Moscow. In 2019, it will rise by 500 rubles (11%) and cost 5,000 rubles a month (approx. $75).

The next day, November 22, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the city’s revenues from legal migrant workers had been growing and would exceed 16 billion rubles ($241 million) by year’s end.

“By paying such a high price for permits, migrant workers have come to occupy a fair position vis-à-vis Russian nationals [rossiyane] working in Moscow, because in the past they paid nothing at all, and, of course, it was profitable to employ them, but the situation has changed today,” said the mayor.

On January 1, 2019, the cost of a license for migrant workers seeking employment in Moscow Region will increase by 450 rubles. The Moscow Region work permit, which cost 4,300 rubles ($64.60) in 2018, will cost 4,750 rubles ($71.50) per month in 2019.

Taras Yefimov, chair of the Moscow Regional Duma’s budget, finance and tax committee, said the measure would enrich the region’s coffers by around one billion rubles [approx. $15 million]. In 2018, Moscow Region made six billion rubles [approx. $90.5 million] on migrant work permits.

St. Petersburg has decided to raise the price of the work permit from 3,500 to 3,800 rubles a month. City officials noted the decision was made because foreign nationals had begun earning considerably more money.

Filling out the forms for extending a work permit. Photo courtesy of Fmskam.ru and Fergana News

Wages Are Not Growing
Svetlana Salamova, director of Migranto.ru, a website for migrant workers looking for jobs and employers seeking to hire migrant workers, has not seen the real growth in the wages of migrant workers that officials have cited.

“The wages of foreign nationals who are employed on the basis of work permits has remained at the level of 29,000 rubles to 35,000 rubles [$435–$525] a month. Maybe the Moscow authorities are focused on high-profile specialists who make 168,000 rubles a month officially?” Salamova sarcastically wondered.

Salamova has noticed wage increases only among Kyrgyz nationals. After Kyrgyzstan joined the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union), employers offered them 40,000 to 45,000 rubles a month.

“But they work without permits. (EAEU nationals can work in Russia without permits as long as they have an employment contract — Fergana News.) Besides, many Kyrgyzstanis agree to low wages of 19,000 to 20,000 rubles a month. They work part time in several places at once, and so ultimately they make a decent amount of money,” explained Salamova.

Salamova did not discount the possibility that fees for work permits have been raised in light of the fact that employers must index wages for inflation as of the new year. Perhaps the authorities decided to increase the cost of permits for foreign national because they took into account this indexation of wages on the Moscow job market.

Immigration center in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru and Fergana News

But what do migrant workers themselves have to say about it?

“Since 2015, the fee for the work permit has increased three times, but I have not even once received a raise. We spend little as it is: 4,500 rubles for the permit, plus the fee for residence registration; 6,000 rubles on rent, 5,000 on groceries, 2,000 on transportation. I sometimes buy clothes and medicines, and there are unforeseen expenses, like when my phone stops working. So, I have only 10,000 rubles left over from my monthly salary of 35,000 rubles. The latest 500-ruble increase will definitely affect my expenses. 6,000 rubles a year is a lot of money: an average family in Tajikistan could live for a month on that amount. It means my relatives back home will have to get by one month of the year without receiving a remittance from me,” said Magomed, who comes from Khujand, Tajikistan’s second-largest city.

Pushed into the Gray Economy
In June 2017, Mayor Sobyanin said the problem of illegal migrant workers in Moscow had been solved and had ceased to be a source of concern for Muscovites. Most migrant workers were employed legally and duly paid their taxes.

Experts believe the increase in the price of the work permit could lead to a rise in the number of foreign workers who decide not to pay taxes.

“The cost of the work permit will increase by 11%. An extra 6,000 rubles a year might not seem like a huge amount of money. But for migrant workers, who earn this money literally with their blood, living far from their families, and undergoing numerous hardships and risks, this is not a small amount at all: the overall cost of a permit for a year will be 60,000 rubles or $900. Some migrant workers will thus decide to go off the books. Consequently, Moscow’s budget is unlikely to get a huge boost, but the city will be supporting a policy of pushing migrant workers into the gray economy with all the attendant social consequences,” says Professor Sergey Abashin.

“It is odd that Moscow MPs say we will start earning more. Every migrant worker pays around 12,000 rubles to get a work permit in the first place. Then every month he pays for the work permit and his residence registration, he pays the rent, and he buys groceries. He even has to pay bribes to the police. People are taking money from us at every turn. What will we have left to send home?” said Muhammad, who is originally from Samarkand.

Batyrzhon Shermuhammad, a lawyer and founder of the website Migrant, also sees no signs of a wage increase.

“If you look at the want ads, you will see that the wages of migrant workers who are employed on the basis of work permits range from 25,000 rubles to 35,000 rubles a month. We monitor the job market, and no one mentions anything about a salary of 40,000 rubles a month. On the contrary, the economic crisis in Russia has been deepening. There is inflation, and the dollar/ruble exchange rate has been rising, which affects the remittances sent by migrant workers,” Shermuhammad said.

The latest increase in the cost of the work permit will force migrant workers to retreat into the shadows, he argues.

“One could understand the increase if the economic situation had improved, but the trends are negative: the prices in shops have increased, and the dollar has become more expensive vis-à-vis the ruble. People have no money, and so they have been having problems with residence registrations. Also, by law you cannot be late paying for your work permit even by a day. If a migrant worker is paid his wages late, he cannot pay the fee for his work permit, and he has no way of shelling out approximately 12,000 rubles to have a new work permit drawn up. While introduction of the work permit system brought migrant workers out of the shadows, the subsequent tightening of immigration laws and the increase in their expenses has been leaving migrant workers with fewer chances to stay legal, even if they would want to,” Shermuhammad said.

Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan. Photo courtesy of Kloop.kg and Fergana News

“Even though I make good money, a 6,000-ruble increase in the price of the work permit is a serious expense, and I have huge expenses aside from the permit. My mother, sister, and I pay 33,000 rubles a month for a place to live. That is 11,000 rubles per person, plus utilities. In addition, I have to pay the fees for my studies twice a year: that is another 100,000 rubles each time. We don’t spend a lot on food, no more than 10,000 rubles per person a month. I also spend money on transportation, clothes, and gifts, and I spend 5,000 to 7,000 rubles a month for English lessons. Lately, we have not been sending a lot of money home, $200 to $300 per month at most. Mom and I used to be able to save money, but in the last six months our expenses have skyrocketed, and after the new year they will increase even more due to the work permit. Basically, the increase in the work permit fee means I won’t be able to pay for English lessons for a month,” said Ilkhom, who hails from Tashkent.

“For migrant workers, 500 rubles is a mobile phone connection for a month,” said human rights active Karimjon Yorov. “It is the cost of a week’s worth of subway trips. It is two lunches, finally. For families with children, it means being able to buy school supplies or pay for school lunches. In short, 500 rubles is a lot of money.”

Yorov argues that raising the cost of the work permit will make migrant workers not want to pay for it, meaning that revenues to Moscow’s coffers will actually decrease.

“Migrant workers will prefer to work without a permit and cross the border every three months. Currently, a trip to the border and back (i.e., exit and re-entry) costs 8,000 rubles in total, while the cost of a work permit for three months is 13,500 rubles, meaning they save 5,500 rubles by exiting Russia and re-entering it. This comes to 22,000 rubles, plus 12,000 rubles for the initial paperwork. The total is 34,000 rubles, which is the same as the cost of round-trip plane ticket to Uzbekistan. When you do the maths, it makes more financial sense for migrant workers to be off the books. The authorities themselves are forcing migrant workers underground, especially now that the laws on immigration registration have been tightened. Whether you get a work permit or not, if you do not live at the address where you are registered, you will be deported. Migrant workers will emerge from the underground only when the law on immigration registration has been abolished,” Yorov concluded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Reader Charity and Solidarity Appeal

fullsizeoutput_2158-EFFECTSDespite rumors to the contrary, the Russian Reader is not financed by anyone, least of all George Soros, nor is it produced in this knockoff on Furniture Street of the Vorontsov Palace on Sadovaya Street. Photo by the Russian Reader

If you want to support my blog in a way that feels, sounds and looks like support, please stop whispering barely audible sweet nothings into my ear when no one else is around to hear or see you.

It is nice, of course, but it makes me think you think there is something really embarrassing and shameful about supporting me publicly and openly.

A few days ago I added a “Donate” button to this blog’s sidebar. It is an experiment of sorts, but it is also partly a forced measure because, for various reasons, literally no one for whom I have done paid work (and lots of it) this past autumn has yet paid me for this work, and I suspect some of them will fail to pay me altogether.

The skinny is that I have always imagined I “paid” for the work I did on the blog with the money I was paid in real life for real work. But since that seems more and more of a fanciful notion—that I translate things, and people pay me for them—in a world where people who think they can get away with it try not to pay me at all, I will have to look for other, more gainful employment.

Although these past eleven years I have put in the time it takes to do two jobs while being paid (sporadically) for only one, I am not going to do that anymore. When and if I get a real job, I will board up this blog for good.

When it comes to the blog, I do not have a thing to be ashamed about. On the contrary, I have racked up approximately 609,000 views for the 2,009 posts I have published on the Russian Reader and its sucessor/predecessor/interloper, Chtodelat News, since October 2007.

But for those of you who think I should go on producing the Russian Reader on a wing and a prayer just because the cause needs me to do it, I think you would find things would not have come to these desperate straits if you had actually given me real, tangible support over the years instead of giving me starvation rations of lip service and sweet nothings.

Since I see quite clearly the things and people on which you do, in fact, lavish support, publicly and openly, I know that you are capable of supporting other causes and people when you want to do it.

By support, I do not mean you have to donate money to me. I could live happily without explicit financial support if the amounts of non-monetary support were more apparent and more frequently rendered. Since they are not, however, the readership numbers for the blog suffer as well, meaning your lack of support on the invisible front means fewer people get to read the blog, because fewer people see your nonexistent reposts and links.

Solidarity is a two-way street. {TRR}

Anti-Central Asian Migrant Worker Dragnet in Tula

uzbek cuisineRussian riot police (OMON) prepare to enter a business identified as “Uzbek Cuisine” in the Central Market area in Tula during yesterday’s “total spot checks.” Photo courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula

Unprecedented Document Checks in Tula: Migrant Workers Lined Up in Columns Many Meters Long
MK v Tule (Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula)
October 20, 2018

Беспрецедентные проверки в Туле: мигрантов выстроили в многометровые колонны

The total checks of migrant workers in Tula have moved beyond the Central Market. According to Moskovsky Komsomolet in Tula‘s correspondent, law enforcers from the Tula Regional Office of the Interior Ministry, the riot police (OMON), the Rapid Deployment Special Force (SOBR), and the Russian National Guard have inspected the streets adjacent to the market.

In particular, visitors from the Asian republics [sic] were also checked on Pirogov and Kaminsky Streets. Law enforcers looked to see whether people had documents [sic], residence registration stamps, and work permits.

Approximately two hundred migrants workers were formed into a long column that grew longer by the minute. Checks for violations of immigration laws proceeded apace.

The total spot checks for illegals [sic] in Tula started at 10 a.m. on October 20, when law enforcers descended on the Khlebnaya Square area en masse. The entire market was cordoned off.

All photos courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Valentina Chupik for the heads-up.

Migrant workers, most but not all of them hailing from the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, have been perfect scapegoats for the Putinist police state, which from day one (nearly twenty years ago) has increased its hold on public opinion through an endless series of semi-official campaigns against nefarious aliens and “national traitors.”

So-called law enforcement officers have long ago turned shaking down migrant workers—something literally every resident of every major city in Russia has seen with their own eyes thousands of times in recent years, but which they have “disappeared” along with most of society’s supposedly intractable problems—into a land office business, that is, a source of easy, quick cash.

In any case, as likely as not, most of the men shown in the photographs, above, probably had all the papers they needed to live and work legally in Russia, including residence registration papers and work permits. Unless they have temporary or permanent residence permits, they would have to renew these papers every three months in a process that is every bit as wasteful, time consuming, and humiliating as yesterday’s dragnet in Tula.

To add to their woes, the top brass of Russia’s dizzying of ever-proliferating, interwing, and competing law enforcement agencies and secret services regularly trot out cooked-up stats showing, allegedly, that migrant workers commit either an outsized proportion of all crimes in Russia or the majority of crimes. Human rights advocates can easily punch holes in these barefaced attempts to generate moral panics while simultaneously proving the police state’s continued indispensability, but these counterarguments rarely if ever get the audience enjoyed by Moskovsky Komsolomets, a mass-circulation national tabloid, based in Moscow, that for many years now has published local supplements in Russia’s numerous, far-flung regions.

Owned until 1991 by the Soviet Communist Youth League (Komsomol), Moskovsky Komsolets abandoned whatever socialist and international principles it had long ago, opting for sensationalism and high circulations. According to the BBC, the newspaper had an average issue readership of 1,215,000 in 2008, making it Russia’s second most read newspaper, after Argumenty i Fakty. Given its heavy internet and social media presence, those readership figures have certainly only gone up in the intervening years.

MK, as it usually styles itself nowadays, perhaps to make us forget about its humble socialist origins, was also identified in 2004 by the Sova Center and the Moscow Helsinki Group as the leading purveyor of hate speech amongst Russia’s national print media outlets. Certainly, yesterday’s “photo essay” in MK in Tula was an attempt to whip up a moral panic while boosting readership.

The newspaper, however, is not primarily responsible for the fact that Russian officialdom and to a certain extent, Russian society at large demonizes, terrorizes, and racially profiles the cheap, supposedly expendable immigrant workforce that keeps the perennially flailing Russian economy afloat.

If you want to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to migrant workers in Russia, a story egregiously underreported by the international press and reported mostly in the sensationalist, racist manner, displayed above, by the Russian press, I would recommend the following articles, published on this website in the past year, plus Professor Sergey Abashin’s now-classic essay “Migrants and Movements in Central Asia,” published here three years ago. {TRR}

 

Who Cares, Right?

tv-629703

Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg reported yesterday that Petersburgers who worked security at the football stadium in Nizhny Novgorod during the 2018 FIFA World Cup have not been paid their wages.

Since July 10, they have been living at the local train station. They have spent all their savings and now have no money to make the trip back home.

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Before they decamped to the train station, they were housed in the stadium itself in conditions as depicted in the photograph, above.

But you were glued to your TV sets the whole time, so what do you care? || TRR

Photos courtesy of the Express and KozaPress

Russia Has Over a Million Slaves

Russia Plans to Fight Slavery: The Country Has More than a Million Slaves
Ivan Ovsyannikov
PROVED.RF
June 26, 2018

The Russian government has tabled a law bill in the State Duma that would ratify the protocol to the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlawing forced labor. Russian officials claim ratifying the protocol is a formality, because there is no slavery in Russia. However, the government itself employs forced labor. PROVED has written about how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sells the labor of inmates to commercial companies, although it is forbidden by the convention. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an international human rights advocacy group, estimates there are over one million slaves in Russia.

The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (No. 29) was adopted by the ILO in Geneva in 1930. The Soviet Union signed it only at the dawn of the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956. In 2014, the convention was supplemented with a protocol introducing  new restrictions on the use of forced labor. In particular, the original convention had stipulated people could be forced to work for public purposes. Such voluntary forced labor was widely practiced in the Soviet Union. Blue- and white-collar workers spent their weekends laboring at so-called subbotniks, while university students were sent to the fields of collective farms to harvest potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. The protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 deems this coerced labor a criminal offense.

Post-Soviet Russia has not ratified either the first or second versions of the convention. The Russian Labor Ministry has decided to correct the omission and tabled a law bill in the State Duma approving the statutes in the protocol to the convention.

The protocol requires signatories to take vigorous measures for eliminating slavery. They must pay compensation to victims of compulsory labor, educate law enforcement officers and employers about prohibited labor practices, and develop strategies for combating the slave trade.

The Labor Ministry’s draft bill says slavery has been banned in Russia as it is, and so it does not suggest any special measures for combating compulsory labor nor does it amend existing laws.

Seventh Place in Terms of Slavery
Experts claim, however, that Russian officials are disingenuous. In fact, in its 2016 survey, the WFF estimated there are least one million people in Russia subjected to some form of slavery, i.e., 0.73% of the country’s total population. Russia was thus ranked seventh in the WFF’s 2016 Global Slavery Index of 167 countries in terms of absolute number of people subjected to modern slavery. According to the index, only India (over 18 million), China (approx. 3.4 million), Pakistan (approx. 2.1 million), Bangladesh (approx. 1.5 million), Uzbekistan (approx. 1.2 million), and North Korea (1.1 million) had more slaves than Russia did.

slavery indexAn excerpt from the 2016 Global Slavery Index

Russian officials have not analyzed slave labor in Russia and do not acknowledge the problem. In their way of thinking, the president has not given them any instructions on the matter and nothing needs to be done, explains Yelena Gerasimova, director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

“I cannot say the government is a party to the scheme, but it closes its eyes on it. Russian Criminal Code Articles 127.1 (Human Trafficking) and 127.2 (Use of Slave Labor) are vaguely worded. While the ILO has a clear definition of slavery, the Russian police often do not understand what we are talking about. They ask us, ‘What slaves? Where are the shackles?’ But no one has ever kept slaves in shackles, for they have to work,” adds Oleg Melnikov, head of the grassroots organization Alternative.

The Government Protection Racket
Slavery includes forced marriages in which women are used as domestic servants, prostitutes forced to work in brothels, and migrant workers whose passports are confiscated by employers. As Gerasimova notes, however, Russian police, prosecutors, and labor inspectors refuse to acknowledge the problem and do nothing to identify people subjected to slavery.

She cites the example of the slaves of Golyanovo, twelve men and women freed from the basement of a grocery story on the outskirts of Moscow in 2012.

“The police were running protection for the store, which had kept people in bondage for years. They had their papers confiscated and were not paid for their work. Golyanovo is the tip of the iceberg,” argues Gerasimova.

The Russian government is willing to sell the manpower of inmates to commercial clients. For example, as PROVED discovered, Arkhangelsk Commercial Seaport LLC, a subsidiary of Evraz, purchased “workers from the inmate population” at the local penal colony for 860 rubles a day per person [approx. €12 a day]. The contract was posted on the government procurements website, although Arkhangelsk Regional Governor Igor Orlov hotly denied the deal. Now it is clear why. The ILO convention permits courts to impose work as a punishment, but it forbids leasing inmates to private companies.

Russian convicts usually work within the FSIN’s own system. Thus, the FSIN’s Main Industrial and Construction Department used inmates to build an entire residential complex for penitentiary service employees on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Ironically, the complex is located on Work Safety Street.

However, the temptation to pursue public-private partnerships in the field of hard labor is too great. For example, FISN officials in Krasnodar Territory not only make no bones about their cooperation with business, but even brag about it. Inmates there sew uniforms for regular police and the Russian National Guard, cobble shoes, produce construction material, and are employed in woodworking and animal husbandry. Krasnodar Territory subsidizes businessmen who buy the goods produced by convicts. The entire enterprise is part of the territory’s official industrial development program for 2017–2020.

The Slave International
Forced labor is popular not only in the Russian penitentiary system but also in the outside world.

Melnikov describes a typical path to slavery.

“People from the hinterlands who go to Moscow and other major cities to improve their lot can end up as slaves. Someone approaches them on the streets, offering them a job in another region working on a rotational basis. He offers them a drink. Two days later, they wake up as they are arriving in Dagestan, Kalmykia or Stavropol Territory. Usually, the slaves work in cottage industries. The victims are told they have been bought. When they try and escape, they are captured and given a beating in front of everyone,” he says.

Moscow has recently been deluged with young women from Nigeria. Allegedly, they have come to study, but ultimately they are forced into prostitution. The farther workers are from home, the more vulnerable they are, adds Melnikov.

Fly-by-night firms, registered in Russia, recruit laborers in the rural regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. So-called foremen act as intermediaries between the firms and the local populace.

“They are often ethnic Russians from Central Asia or elders of the local communities, the mahallahs. They bring young men and women from the villages and hand them over to the managers of the companies that operate as agents. From the viewpoint of the UN and international law, this is human trafficking. But the migrant workers themselves do not see it that way. Many of them regard it as the natural order of things, an act of initiation. If you have not worked as a migrant laborer, you’re not a real man,” notes Andrei Yakimov, an expert on migrant workers.

People who are employed in this manner usually sign no work contracts with their employers. They do not know the names of the companies where they work or the names of their supervisors.

“A female cleaner from Uzbekistan knows only that she works for someone named Feruz. Feruz is her foreman or her foreman’s manager. At most, she will have heard that somewhere at the top of the food chain her work is supervised by someone named Andrei Nikolayevich, say. If I am an unskilled worker named Abdullo who has not been paid his wages, I am going to find it hard to figure where my money is. The foreman, the manager, his managers or contractor could be holding on to it. The chain of command can consist of dozens of links, especially in the construction business,” Yakimov explains.

There is no one to whom the migrant work can complain. If the migrant worker’s ID papers have also been confiscated, his or her enslavement is complete.

Slave labor is employed in different sectors of the economy. In Dagestan, slaves are sent to work at brick factories, while in Moscow they are employed as shop clerks, beggars, and prostitutes. In Novy Urengoy, they work in construction, while in Tver Region they are employed in sawmills.

Employment Off the Books
Yakimov argues that slavery in Russia is one of the shapes taken by undocumented employment. Russian nationals are fine with the fact that foreigners from Central Asia do the dirty, poorly paid jobs. These workers never turn to the authorities for help, fearing they will be punished for not having residency papers and work permits.

Russian nationals sometimes also avoid turning to the authorities, since many of them are employed on the black market and have not signed employment contracts, either. State Duma MP Oleg Shein has calculated that 34 million able-bodied Russians are employed in the illegal labor market, earning 10 trillion rubles [approx. €136 billion] annually. They constitute 40% of Russia’s entire workforce, says Shein. Such workers risk ending up as forced laborers, according to the wording of ILO Convention No. 29.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE (July 24, 2018). The 2018 Global Slavery Index has updated the figures for modern slavery in Russia. It has this to say in particular about slavery in Russia and efforts to combat it. Continue reading “Russia Has Over a Million Slaves”

Sisters Have to Do It for Themselves

37045808_10209682377334711_3615467989047967744_nIrina Kovalenko and Ksenia Mikhaylichenko, outside of Murmansk Regional Court. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhaylichenko’s Facebook page

Ksenia Mikhaylichenko
Facebook
July 11, 2018

It’s great to talk about cases in which you walloped the opposing counsel, the judges gave you a standing applause, and you galloped off on your steed to deliver more justice and do more good. Today, though, I would like to tell a different sory, a story in which you and your client are obviously in the right, but the system tells you, “Hang on, guys. We have our own way of doing things here. Goodbye.”

[…]

Irina graduated from the mechanics and mathematics department at the Peoples’ Friendship University (RUDN) and worked for a major company in Moscow. Then, for family reasons, she moved to Murmansk, where she faced a problem. No one wanted to hire her, explaining she was too well educated, had done internships abroad, and had experience working at a major company, which was way too cool for the folks in Murmansk.

Ultimately, Irina got a job at the Murmansk Regional Information Technology Center, a government-funded agency. Everything would have been great if the head of the place had not hit on Irina big time. When she rejected his advances, she faced harassment in the literal sense of the word: humiliation, insults, daily rants, and charges of incompetence. At the same time, this guy held drinking bouts at work. (Here is the proof.) I would remind you all this took place in a government-funded agency, paid for by our taxes.

Finally, the boss fired Irina. She filed complaints with the State Labor Inspectorate, the prosecutor’s office, and the Murmansk Regional Committee for Information Technology and Communications, which had founded the agency. They promised they would get to the bottom of the matter and get her her job back. Seven months went by, seven months during which Irina received medical treatment in Moscow for terrible headaches and panic attacks. She was prescribed heavy antidepressants.

Seven months later, her ex-boss was fired after five millions rubles went missing from the agency’s books. No one faced criminal charges, of course. On the contrary, the agency’s wonderful head was given severance pay.

Irina had been forgotten, however. She was told to take her case to court and seek justice there. Irina did go to court. At the preliminary hearing, the judge refused to hear the case, citing the statute of limitations.

I came on board during the appeal, but the case file from the hearing in the lower court immediately amazed me. Irina had filed for an adjournment, since the clinic in Moscow where she had been treated was slow in putting together the papers she needed, and so she had to fly to Moscow to retrieve the originals, meaning she needed at least a couple of days. But the judge would not have any of it.

At the appeals hearing, we tried to get all these papers admitted into evidence while thoroughly explaining all the circumstances of the case and Irina’s terrible state of health over the past seven months. Irina was still suffering from pneumonia and pyelonephritis, which we had also documented medically. The stone-faced judges rejected our motion, however.

The prosecutor at the appeals hearing made the biggest impression on me. Foaming at the mouth and raising her voice, she argued Irina had made everything up about the harassment and her health.

“She wasn’t a disabled person, so she could have gone to court.”

This is a direct quotation.

We lost our appeal. It has made me feel terrible. Our system could not care less what happens to women who suffer harassment at work. It is simply impossible to prove either that harassment took place or that it had something to do with a woman being fired.

There are only prosecutors screaming, “You’re pretending to be the victim in this case” so loudly everyone in the courtroom can hear it.

I feel terrible when female friends tell me how their bosses molest them at work more or less arrogantly. Complete strangers write to me with enviable regularity, asking me to advise them what to do if their boss asks them to go to his office after everyone leaves, or they will have to tender their resignations. I don’t know how to reply to them, because it would be a blatant lie to tell them that there are effective legal defenses and the Russian state will defend them.

Thanks to Alena Popova, who introduced me to Irina and had also been helping her all she can. Together we will definitely think of a way to win the case.

Everything is definitely going to be fine for Irina. It cannot be otherwise for fighters for justice like her[.]

Thanks to Elena Konte for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The New Serfs

kozyrev-muscovitesPhoto by Yuri Kozyrev for the project Muscovites. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The New Serfs
On July 9, Millions of Migrant Workers and Foreign Students Will Be Stripped of the Right to Freedom of Movement in Russia in a Single Bound. What Has Happened?
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Tatyana Vasilchuk
Novaya Gazeta
July 6, 2018

On June 28, Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 163-FZ, which clarifies the guidelines for immigration registration in Russia. According to the amended law, such notions as a foreign national’s place of residence and the party hosting the foreign national have been defined more precisely. The majority of media outlets have described the new law as making the lives of migrant workers less burdensome, since the new law says foreign workers can be registered as dwelling in construction site trailers. This has provoked grumbling among “tolerant” Russians, who have complained migrant workers will arrive in even greater numbers and occupy all the country’s trailers.

In fact, the situation is quite different. The new rules are a blow to all law-abiding migrant workers and nearly all foreign students. Any legal entity that attempts to hire foreign nationals to work or study in Russia could find itself in violation of the law.

Even people who have all the papers and permissions for staying in Russia could be deemed lawbreakers.

The July Eighth Law
When a foreign national arrives in Russia, she is obliged to present herself to the immigration authorities and register her place of residence. However, she cannot register herself: the people or entities who invited her are obliged to do this. If she has come on a private visit, this would be the owner of the flat she has rented or the hotel where she is staying. If she has come to Russia to study, the university where she will be studying is obliged to register her. If she has come to Russia to work, the company in which she is employed must register her. (The last instance is more flexible, because her company is obliged to register her with the immigration authorities, but they may or may not register her place of residence as they wish, apparently.) Private landlords are a separate topic, but legal entities would take the easy way out. The law used to permit them to register the university or the company’s main address as a student’s or employee’s domicile. However, the foreign national could actually live somewhere else. It was understood, however, that if the police or other competent authorities were looking for her, they could do so at the address where she was officially registered.

The old system had its advantages and its shortcomings.

“There are companies that have five or six thousand foreign nationals on staff. It is convenient for them to register people at their business address to oversee whether their employees are paying for work permits and extending their residence permits on time,” says migration expert Svetlana Salamova.

The other side of the coin has to do with the poor living conditions of some foreign workers. This is most often the case among migrant workers from Central Asia.

“Employers would sometimes accommodate fifteen people at a time in trailers, in which the living conditions were rough. Besides, finding people via their legally registered domicile was often quite complicated,” explains human rights defender Andrei Babushkin.

To solve these problems, the definitions of key notions in the immigration laws have been amended. Actually, however the circumstances of migrant workers and their Russian employers have been considerably worsened, not improved. The amendments signed into law on June 28 stipulate that the place where the foreign national stays cannot be a normal domicile, but it can be other premises where the foreign national or stateless person actually resides, i.e., regularly uses for sleep and relaxation. If she is registered by a Russian organization, the foreigner must live for all intents and purposes in premises belonging to the organization. However, the premises must be equipped as a dwelling space.

In other words, if a foreign worker wants her company to register her with the authorities, she is obliged to reside full time in the company’s living accommodations.

The catch is that most legal entities simply do not having living accommodations. Construction companies will have the easiest time of it. They will now actually be able to register workers as legally residing in trailers and makeshift barracks at construction sites. All other companies have nowhere to accommodate their employees from other countries. A sofa and a microwave are not sufficient conditions for turning a room into a legal residence.

“Legally speaking, a domicile is a place that has been registered as such,” says Salamova. “An office with a sofa in it is not a domicile, but if your company lets you keep your suitcases there and install a stove and refrigerator, theoretically you could be registered as dwelling there. In this case, however, the employee from the personnel department who registers you with the Russian Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] will have to supply the immigration authorities with paperwork showing the room has been registered as a domicile.”

Will Russian companies be willing to turn their offices into bedrooms? The answer is obviously no.

Large auditing and consulting agencies, a field in which many foreign nationals are employed in Russia (not only expatriates but also graduates of Russian universities who are nationals of the former Soviet republics) have started to warn their employees about the need to look for a place where they can be registered as residing. Victoria Plotinskaya, marketing and public relations director at AT Consulting, told us that foreign employees at her company must register at their actual addresses before July 9. Previously, AT Consulting registered them at its business address, but now it is willing to provide them with legal assistance. Plotinskaya assumes their employees will have no difficulties, since registering oneself as residing in a rented flat is not a problem,  she claims.

We, however, have learned that several employees of major companies have been thinking about quitting their jobs or transferring to their home countries because their landlords have no intention of registering them.

“Companies will lose the ability to keep track of the immigration registration of their foreign national employees, while  foreign nationals who live in rented flats will have to negotiate with their landlords about registering them,” says Roman Gusev, director of Ernst & Young’s taxation and legal services department. The company does not plan to lay off any employees.

“In practice,” Gusev continues, “we see that many landlords refuse to deal with this procedure, because they don’t want the added administrative burden. In such cases, foreign nationals will have to urgently look for new accommodations. On the other hand, landlords who agree to meet the new requirements will have to keep close watch over their foreign tenants’ arrivals in the Russian Federation, since they have to be registered with immigration authorities after each such arrival.

“There are also risks for conscientious landlords. If their foreign national tenants arrive in the Russian Federation and fail to inform them, the landlords will be breaking the law without knowing it. On the other hand, foreign nationals could also find themselves in a pickle if their landlords suddenly refuse to register them with the immigration authorities or are simply unable to do what the law requires of them because they happen to be out of town,” concludes Gusev.

Unfortunately, the new rules are also retroactive, apparently, meaning everyone who is registered as residing at a business beyond July 8 will be in violation of the law come this Monday—unless, of course, they are unable to swiftly persuade their landlords to register them. In this case, however, no one can vouch that landlord will supply this service for free. Rental agreements presume that landlords pay taxes on the rent they charge. Verbal agreements to rent someone a flat and register them while not paying taxes could lead to a rise in the price of flats let to foreign nationals in Russia.

Formally, nothing has been said about the retroactive force of the amendments to the law, as signed by Putin. However, human rights activists have already been getting reports of attempts to deport migrant workers for dwelling in places where they are not registered to reside. In fact, the Interior Ministry already has the power to deport a non-Russian national if an inspector discovers him somewhere other than his registered domicile, say, at another flat in the evening.

This was what happened to Uzbek nationals in Omsk Region, says human rights activist Valentina Chupik. The Uzbeks went to a immigration center with registration papers obtained from a middleman, and they were sent off to be deported, allegedly because they did not live at their registered domicile.

In other words, under the new law, migrant workers no longer have the right to spend the night somewhere other than their legally registered, actual residence.

Under Article 54 of the Russian Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively. This was underscored by the specialists at Alliance Legal Migration, a firm based in Petersburg. In theory, then, all registrations issued before July 8 should be valid for their full terms. This can be proven only in court, however. Yet Russian courts rarely side with migrant workers.

Dormitory Hostages
Foreign nationals employed by Russian companies are only half of the problem. If push comes to shove, they can pay landlords extra money to register them. All foreign students in Russia are now at risk as well. Previously, universities would register their main buildings as the legal domiciles of their foreign students, but now they will be obliged to register all of them in university dormitories. However, the number of rooms in the dorms does not match the number of foreign students, and out-of-town Russian students have to live in dorms as well. Besides, there are students who do not want to live in dorms and can rent flats, students who have children, for example. Previously, they could count on their universities registering them, but now they will have to take care of their own registration.

The new law also applies to students who left for summer holidays not knowing they would return to Russia in the autumn on new terms. In addition, students who are registered in dorms are virtually their hostages.

Any violation of university regulations or, for example, attendance at an opposition rally gives university deans the chance to opportunity to revoke the registration of “troublesome” foreign students, which automatically means they are in violation of immigration laws and can be deported. Considering the fact that many international students have never experienced serfdom, they behave like free women and men. Their freedom will now be harshly restricted by the hours when the dorm’s main entrance closes.

Universities themselves seemingly have not yet figured out yet what they are going to do. The new rules have been a big surprise to most of them. The main issue they face is how they will now enroll international students if registering all of them legally has become impossible.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) refused to comment on the amended rules. We were told by a spokesperson at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) that they were in the process of working out a way of dealing with the new rules. However, we have in our possession correspondence between students and the HSE’s immigration department, who categorically informed the students they could be registered only at their actual places of residence.

At Moscow State University (MGU), we were told, “The issues of timely migration registration and visa extensions for foreign students residing in rented flats is currently being examined by university management in order to find the optimal solution.”

“The university has not contemplated any limitations to enrolling foreign students due to the adoption of Federal Law No. 163-FZ, dated June 27, 2018,” a MGU spokesperson added.

Other universities failed to respond to our inquiries before this issue of the newspaper was sent to the presses.

“If a university does not have a dormitory or does not have enough room in its dormitories, students can ask for a written request from the university to landlords, asking them to register the students at their actual domiciles. And then the landlords can register them if they want to do so,” explains Salamova.

Closely Watched Flats
You should not imagine that all of the above is a headache for foreigners, but has nothing to do with you.

According to the new rules, Russian nationals who let flats to foreign nationals are automatically regarded as “hosts,” meaning they are obliged to register them as residing in their dwellings and are responsible for them.

“There will also be increased check-ups and fines in the case of noncompliance with the laws for people who let flats to foreigners,” predicts Salamova.

In all fairness, such fines also existed earlier, but they were almost never issued. We have been informed that as soon as the World Cup ends, the police will make an extra effort to inspect all residential buildings and search for unregistered foreigners living in them.

Moreover, Russians are currently responsible for foreign nationals, even if they have left the country but their immigration registration is still valid. A law bill, sponsored by Irina Yarovaya and on the verge of its second reading, has been tabled in the State Duma. If passed, it would make it possible to remove foreigners from the immigration registry instantly and on one’s own via the web. This means landlords would also be able to remove tenants from the registry whenever they wanted, claiming, for example, that they had lost touch with the migrant workers in question. Foreign tenants would thus be subject to the whims of landlords, who could raise their rent at the drop of a hat, threatening to remove them from the immigration registry if they failed to pay. Besides, if a migrant worker does not live in the flat where she is officially registered, she can find herself without papers at any minute because, according to yet another amendment, she can be stricken from the rolls as residing in a particular flat without her knowledge. This means that beat cops can stop her on the street and automatically fine and deport her.

In mid June, the State Duma approved yet another law bill in its second reading. If passed, it would make organizations that invite foreigners to Russia wholly responsible for their actions. For example, if a foreign national works somewhere else than the organization that invited him or “is up to no good,” as MP Viktor Karamyshev has put it, the authorities will pay a call to the foreigner’s primary host organization. In addition, companies would have to make sure that when an employment contract ends, the migrant worker leaves the country instantly. Otherwise, the companies would be fined.

At the same time, the State Duma approved a new list of fines for noncompliance with all these rules on the part of organizations and ordinary Russians.

Under the new regulations in the Administrative Offenses Code, individuals will pay fines of up to 4,000 rubles for violations involving migrant workers, while officials will pays up to 50,000 rubles, and legal entities will pay up to 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,700 euros].

Beneficiaries  
By and large, the batch of laws that have been adopted or are still under consideration (the Interior Ministry, for example, has launched an expert group to draft a Migration Code) should at least be sent back to the relevant committee for revision, since, as Babushkin says, “The harm they do outweighs the good.” But the way the new rules have been drafted and adopted behind the scenes—they did not warrant a single public hearing nor, as far we have ascertained, did their authors consult with independent migration lawyers—suggests their oppressiveness is advantageous as they currently stand.

Who stands to gain, however? MP Irina Yarovaya, for example, argues that certain changes, such as the ability to remove migrant workers from the registration rolls on one’s own, are in the interests of ordinary Russians. She states her case in a clarification to the law bill that the MP’s aides sent to us in reply to a request for comments. On the contrary, human rights activists argue the Interior Ministry, which now has complete oversight over immigration, has received yet another tool for extorting bribes. Any migrant worker can be stopped on the street by the police and threatened with deportation: he will find it easier to pay them off. Any landlord can be intimidated with fines.

The threat of deportation is a convenient tool for dealing with troublesome individuals.

Our newspaper published the story of Gulchekhra Aliyeva and her family. She and her son were locked up for five days without food and water at the Ramenki District Police Station in Moscow. They were let out of their cells twice a day to go to the toilet. According to the Aliyevs and human rights advocates, the police tried to extort them, promising to deport them if they did not pay up. The ostensible cause was the tightening of security on the eve of the World Cup. After human right defenders intervened, the Aliyevs were released, and a criminal investigation into allegations of torture was launched.

“However, when the Aliyevs were summoned for questioning, it transpired  the police planned to deport them for being registered at their place of work rather than where they actually lived,” says Chupik.

Moreover, this happened before the new law had taken effect.

“We basically saved them by escaping the police station,” recalls Chupik.

The special services also stand to benefit from the new law. As we have learned from a source with ties to the academic world, special services officers have connections to the immigration departments in several Russian universities.

This is tantamount to reviving the Soviet system of “working” with international students at universities. Given that they inevitably violate the rules, they can be inclined to “friendship” and “cooperation” when necessary.

Besides, foreigners per se will now be unable to take the slightest step in Russia without official registration. Nationals of our allies Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will also be punished, but that is collateral damage.

Finally, fly-by-night fake migration registrars stand to gain from the law, since their entire business will disappear into the shadow economy. Even now, migrant workers who travel to the Multi-Purpose Migration Center (MMTs) in Sakharovo, in the far southern outskirts of Moscow, cannot have their domiciles registered while other papers are being processed, including their work permits. Human rights activists say the MMTs has lost this right due to the new law.

“Everyone mobs Kazan Station, getting registered by people who give them counterfeit papers,” claims Chupik.

As far as we know, the neighborhood around the Kazan Railway Station, in central Moscow, has the largest number of people offering such dubious services. Moreover, these deals are made more or less in plain view of law enforcement officers, who do nothing about them: maybe they know something important we do not know or know more thane we. The price of counterfeit registration papers is between seven and eight thousand rubles [approx. 95 to 110 euros], a hefty sum of money for migrant workers.

The Interior Ministry stubbornly persists in saying nothing about how the new law will be enforced: it has not published any official clarifications. We have sent the ministry a request to comment, but when this newspaper went to the print, the ministry had not yet responded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader