Since 1995, Language Link has had full permission to invite and employ foreign teachers in Russia. As a direct result, Language teachers have been working in full compliance with the law. If you are a teacher and you are considering working in Russia, you would do well to understand Russian Labour Law. That said, these laws have been in a constant state of flux since November 2002. Therefore, what follows are the most recent changes to these laws.
Over the last two years, there have been a number of changes in the laws and regulations governing the entry of foreigners into the Russian Federation. Government ministries have changed names and/or taken on new functions. This is especially true of those ministries responsible for regulating the migration of foreigners into Russia who wish to find work. What follows has been specifically written for those wishing to enter Russia for the express purpose of teaching English. As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this.
What follows is a full explanation of the 'visa process' as it applies to teachers. It should be noted that though the process may seem a bit complicated, most of it must be performed by your visa sponsor e.g. Language Link.
Letters of Invitation: With few exceptions, most foreigners wishing to enter Russia must have a valid visa. In order to obtain a visa, it is necessary to have a visa sponsor. Your visa sponsor is responsible for applying to UFMS (formerly UVIR) for a letter of invitation which, when received, will be sent on to the teacher by post (usually FedEx or DHL). To apply for a letter of invitation, your visa sponsor will need a scanned copy of your passport details page(s) as well as the location (city) in which you will be applying for your Russian visa (see farther on for further details).
Obtaining a letter of invitation can take up to a month from the time it is first applied for until it is received by post. If you have been offered teaching employment by a language company, then its name should figure on the letter of invitation. If it does not, then most likely you are being employed illegally. If you have doubts, then you should ask your employer for an explanation. All Language Link teachers are sponsored by Language Link.
Along with the letter of invitation, which you will receive by post, there should also be a letter of support from the sponsoring company and a medical card or insurance policy confirming that you have medical insurance in Russia. Employers are not obligated to provide medical insurance. Therefore, your visa sponsor may request that you provide your own medical insurance.
For those unfamiliar with the aforementioned documents, the letter of invitation is about half the size of an A-4 piece of paper folded lengthwise (81/2 x 11 for you Americans). The Letter of Support is on an A-4 piece of Letterhead stationery. Both of these documents along with the medical insurance policy MUST be sent or brought to the Russian Consulate in order to process your visa.
Visas: Obtaining visas may be done either in person or by post. With regard to this, there is one important rule to remember. Letters of invitation are consular specific. That is to say, the applicant must designate the location of the consulate where the visa will be processed. With few exceptions, you can process your visa at any Russian consulate provided you specified that consulate and provided you go in person. If you wish to process your visa by post, restrictions may apply. By way of example, in the US, all mail-in visa applications must be sent to the Russian consulate in Washington D.C. If you are uncertain as to the proper procedures to follow, then it is best to check the website of the Russian consulate nearest you. Americans living abroad may also be banned from using the post to process their visas such as in the UK where Americans must process their visas either in person or via an agency that specialises in processing visas. Having twice mentioned Americans, it is likewise fitting to mention that Americans must fill in a two-page visa application form as versus the standard one page form for all other nationalities. Should it be of interest, this is not the result of an 'anti-American' attitude but rather because the US has initiated a new longer visa application process for Russians.
In order to apply for a visa, the following items should be brought or posted to the designated Russian consulate:
- application form
- passport with at least two clear pages
- letter of invitation (the original)
- letter of support
- health insurance card
- HIV test
- one passport size photo (black & white or coloured)
- applicable fee
Companies with the right to invite AND employ foreign teachers in Russia will no doubt opt for their teachers to be issued three-month single (or double) entry visas. Rather than being concerned by the ninety-day nature of this visa, teachers should find comfort in the fact that this is the visa recommended by UFMS for foreigners coming to work in Russia. After your visa has been registered in Russia (following your arrival), the employer has three months to fill in the mandatory eight documents necessary to have this visa both prolonged AND converted into a one-year multiple entry visa. Of both note and interest, employers that have the right to invite and employ foreign language teachers in Russia are no longer obligated to obtain work permissions for them. Recent legislation enacted over the last year has stipulated that foreign 'specialists' such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc are no longer required to have work permissions provided they are being both invited and employed by a company that has the right to do so.
Companies without the right to invite and employ foreigners i.e. non-Russian residents have, in the past, opted to bring their teachers into the country on one year multiple entry visas. Unfortuantely for these companies, the law has now changed and a recent decree (Decree 365 signed into law on October 4th, 2007) states that holders of the aforementioned one year multiple entry visas may only be present on Russian territiory for a maximum of three months in any six month period.
Migration Cards: If visas weren't enough, travellers to Russia are now required by law to fill in a migration card prior to passing through customs. Less a card and more a piece of paper, the migration card is obtained before entry into Russia. Airline attendants distribute migration cards just prior to landing while train conductors do so just prior to crossing the frontier into Russia. This form MUST be filled in AND stamped. At times, the voyager will have to insist on having the form stamped though this is becoming less of a problem. Failure to do so will delay registration of your visa and most likely result in a fine. Please note the form has two identical sections: A and B. The section on the right is identical to that on the left. Both sections must be filled in. Section A - Entry will be kept by passport control. Section B will be returned to you by the customs official. On leaving Russia, you will need to surrender Section B.
Registration: Within seventy-two hours of your arrival in Russia, your visa sponsor must submit your passport, visa and migration card to UFMS for registration. These documents will be returned within a couple of weeks. Previously, your visa sponsor was required to submit the appropriate paper work detailing the address where you would be living during your stay in Russia. This is no longer the case, and all teachers who are working legally in Russia should be registered at their companies legal address.
As is obvious from the foregoing section, those companies that have made the effort to employ their teachers legally deserve a pat on the back. Should it not be obvious, the reason why many (most) companies have chosen not to work in accordance with the law is purely monetary. Considering that native speaking teachers are offered more money per hour than Russian speaking teachers and that many are given a package deal (accommodation, travel allowance, visa reimbursement, health insurance, holiday, sick time, etc), the additional burden of taxation is just too much to bear. Unfortunately, a new teacher to Russia who is hired legally will cost his employer 30% in income tax for the first 183 days of their stay (thereafter 13%) and more than 25% in social welfare taxes (unemployment, disability, pension, hospitalisation and doctor). The very fact that foreign teachers are NOT allowed to collect on unemployment, disability and pension is reason alone why most resist paying it.
Passport validity: As previously mentioned, Language Link is accredited to invite and employ foreign teachers to Russia. In accordance with the UFMS regulations, Language Link invites its teachers to Russia on three-month single entry business visas which are thereafter prolonged and converted to a one-year multiple-entry visa. In order for Language Link to prolong a teacher's visas, as stated above, certain passport validity dates applies.
Simply speaking, for Language Link to convert a three-month visa to a one-year visa, the teacher's passport must be valid for at least twenty-one (21) months beyond the FINAL expiration date of the new one-year visa. If a passport is valid for less than the required twenty-one months, then this will effect how long Language Link can extend the teacher's original three-month visa. By way of example, if a teacher's passport were valid for only twenty months beyond the FINAL expiration date of the new (proposed) one-year visa, then one month would be subtracted from the validity of the new visa i.e., good for eleven months and not twelve and so on.
Of interest, teachers wishing to stay on with Language Link in Russia for a second year do not need to obtain a new visa for their second year. Language Link can prolong the teacher's one-year multiple-entry visa again for up to one more year. Of course the twenty-one month rule again applies.
The Language Link Commitment
Since 1995, Language Link has placed the welfare and well-being of its teachers before all other considerations. This we have always done; this we shall continue to do.