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Russia is a multicultural nation that is host to 11 million expats - the second highest number of foreign residents for any country in the world. Around 90% of these immigrants are from the former Soviet Union. Russia has a declining population, and this is particularly the case among ethnic Russians. This is one of the reasons why the government has recently started to relax its immigration laws and start to simplify them.
Once you have arrived in Russia, you have three days in which to register your visa with the authorities. This procedure is normally handled by the institution that provided your invitation letter, such as your new employer. Once they have completed their part of the registration process, they will pass on to you a registration form, which you must complete and hand in to border control when you leave Russia.
Residence permits are issued by the Federal Migration Service or FMS (in Russian, ФМС.) There are two different kinds of residence permit in Russia: temporary and permanent. A temporary residence permit allows you to live in Russia for up to three years. While on a temporary residence permit, you are only permitted to reside in the region to which the permit pertains. If you want to move to another region, you will have to apply for a temporary residence permit for that region. Your movement in and out of the country is also restricted on this permit – you may not be away from Russia for more than three months, and, if you want to leave, you will have to apply for exit and re-entry visas.
There are four ways you can be eligible for a temporary residence permit. Unless you were born in Russia and have not done Russian military service, you need either to have a Russian family member or sufficient investment funds. You also need a medical certificate that proves that neither you nor any of your family members in the country is infected with HIV. The application process for resident permits is slow and can take up to six months. At the start of the second and third years, you will need to get the permit re-registered. Temporary residence permits cannot be renewed.
To obtain a permanent residence permit, you need to have held a temporary permit for at least twelve months. The permanent residence permit is valid for up to five years, and can then be renewed on a five-yearly basis, though it will need to be re-authenticated annually. Once you have this permit, you are free to re-enter Russia without needing a visa and the level of paperwork you are subjected to is reduced. You are also able to work in any part of Russia without needing a work permit.
Unless you are a refugee or have other special status, or you have existing relatives in Russia, you will need to apply for citizenship by means of naturalisation. To qualify for naturalisation, you must have resided in Russia for a minimum number of years. For most expats, this period will be five years, but it is only three years for those who are married to Russian citizens and one year for refugees.
These lengths of residence are comparable with many other countries. However, there are additional requirements for citizenship. You must observe the constitution and the laws of the state, have adequate knowledge of the Russian language and be able to support yourself financially. Furthermore, as dual citizenship is not permitted, you must renounce any previous citizenship you hold on obtaining Russian citizenship.
Though celebrities can gain Russian citizenship with ease (as, for example, French actor Gérard Dépardieu recently did), this is not the case for most people. The process seems relatively simple in theory, but the reality is some expats have had to wait 10 or even 15 years to gain citizenship. However, as with other areas of immigration, this may improve as there are plans to ease becoming a Russian citizen.
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