Great news. We officially received the extensions on our student visas for one year today! For those of you who either don’t know or don’t remember if I told you, when you come to Russia on a student visa they only grant you a conditional three-month visa at the beginning. If, after the first 2 months of your studies, you’re fulfilling the requirements of your program, they will begin the process to extend your visa for another year. So today we finally got those magic documents. Each one is a rather large piece of paper that we must carefully fold up and put inside of our passports.
As an aside, perhaps you would find it interesting to know the documents that we must carry with us around Russia just in order to be legal. Well, here’s the list.
Passport – This is probably a no-brainer, but we actually must carry either our passports or a copy of our passports with us at all times in case we get randomly stopped by the police. Thankfully it’s never happened, but if it did and we didn’t have these documents we could be in a lot of trouble.
Visa – Unless you’re from one of the former Soviet Republics (not including Georgia now), or Israel and a handful of other countries, you must have a visa in order to enter Russia. No, we’re not talking about the credit card visa. The visa is a special stamp in your passport that you receive from a Russian embassy stating that you have been granted the privilege to enter the Russian Federation for a specific period of time. In order to get a visa you must have an inviting agency. For tourist visas, most people simply go through tourist visa services that handle all the hoopla. Tourist visas are issued for no longer than a month. For all other doings you must have some organization,(i.e. business, school or other institution) who is inviting you to do something specific. This organization issues a request to the local Federal Migration Services office in Russia asking them to grant you a letter of invitation. One month later, if all goes well, the FMS grants the letter invitation. The letter of invitation is then sent to you and you send that letter in with your passport and a bunch of other stuff to the Russian embassy or one of the Russian consulates in the United States (or in your home country). They then issue you this visa by stamping a big sticker in your passport. In our case we now have an extension on our visas, so we must have this neatly folded large piece of paper inside of our passports as well.
Migration Card – Think going through all of the steps to get a visa is a hassle? That’s the easy part. The fun part is when you arrive in Russia. That’s when the real fun begins. Before you can go through passport control and be allowed to officially enter the country you must fill out a migration card. The migration card consists of two parts that are identical. You fill out a card for every member of your family with identical information on each side of the cards. When you go through passport control to enter the country the control officer takes one side of the card for records. You must keep the other side with you at all times and give it to the passport control officer when you exit the country. Losing this card can also get you in big trouble. This also is a loose piece of paper that must be folded and kept with the passport at all times in case you’re stopped and checked, or if you want to buy train tickets.
Registration – Now, here’s where the fun begins. Think everything above is sufficient? There’s one last major step you must take, and it’s a doozy. You don’t just get a visa to enter Russia. You don’t just fill out and keep a migration card with you at all times with your visa and passport. You must also be registered. “What’s registration?” you ask. Well I’ll tell you. Registration is when the party who issued your letter of invitation must take a copy of your passport, visa and migration down to the dreaded OVIR office in the city in which you’re residing and stand in line for the better part of a day and let the most unreasonable and angry people known to man know that you’re in the country. This all must be done within three days of your arrival in Russia or you and your inviting agency risk getting heavily fined, and you risk getting deported. As a foreigner, the Russian Federation wants to know where you are and what you’re doing. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with these people personally, our inviting agency does. But each time we register we must pay our inviting agency about $120, and there’s no way around it. When the registration is completed we are given an official copy of the registration slip which, of course, must be folded up and kept inside of our passports. If and when we get ready to leave the country we must notify our inviting agency who must, before we actually leave the country, go back down to the local OVIR office and turn in our original registration slip to the unreasonable and angry people. We must then turn in our official copy to the passport control officer as we exit the Russian federation. If our inviting agency fails to turn in our registration slips before we leave the country they could be heavily fined and we could risk being blacklisted from entering the Russian Federation for up to five years.
By now your head ought to be hurting, and that’s as it should be. I haven’t even touched upon things like what would happen if we actually lost any of these little pieces of paper. Furthermore, if I were to describe to you what is required for someone trying to get permanent residency in Russia you’d probably cry. Maybe I’ll reference a link here one day and you can read about it at night to scare your kids.
So that’s what we carry around with us. I sometimes feel like I’ve got a filing cabinet in my coat pocket as I walk around. So remember all of this if you ever ask one of us, “What did you do today?” and one of us answers “I was working on visa stuff.” Now you’ll know.