In the fall of 2007 the lives of many foreigners living in Russia were thrown into chaos. For years expats had lived and served in various capacities in Russia simply by applying for and receiving one-year “business” visas. Under this general heading of “business” fell everything from commercial activities to religious work; it was a catch-all phrase for pretty much everything other than a tourist visa. They were relatively simple to get and allowed one to move about the country fairly easily. The only catch was that one had to physically exit and reenter the country every six months as the visa could be registered for only 180 days at a time. But despite this hassle many expats opted for these visas rather than endure the grueling, complicated and uncertain process of applying for and receiving residency. Then everything changed.
The Russian government decided it was time to reign in the foreign free-for-all that was going on inside of their boarders. A new law was passed stipulating that, while one-year visas would still be issued, a person receiving one could only spend a total of 180 days in the country during a calendar year. Furthermore, no one stay could exceed 90 days. This law became commonly known as the “90-day-in 90-day-out” law. For obvious reasons such a visa would no longer be a viable option for working in the country full-time.
Despite rumors, this action was NOT specifically targeted at foreign missionaries. Expats from all walks of life, missionaries, aid workers, businessmen, etc. were all suddenly thrown for a loop. As the smoke cleared and people scrambled to figure out what to do, it became clear that there were only a few options available to foreigners who wanted to live year round in the country.
- Student Visa – These were still easily obtained, but had limitations. Most foreigners could enter a language institute and study Russian, but this would only be seen as a viable option for 2-3 years.
- Work Visa – Any registered business or organization in Russia can apply to hire foreigners but with a number of stipulations. First, there are quotas for the number of foreigners who can be hired, and second, the business or organization must prove that the position requires a foreign specialist and not a Russian.
- Residency – By far the most stable option, and by far the most complicated. Applying for residency requires almost a year of preparation and a mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy. There are also very limited quotas per region for the number of foreigners who can apply for residency in a calendar year. Furthermore, as people had become so accustomed to living in Russia on business visas, few knew if it were even possible to receive residency any more, especially if one were tied to a religious denomination or mission organization.
Since 2007 InterAct’s Russia field has essentially functioned in a state of limbo. Our team has lived in Russia primarily on student and work visas, but last year our current field members set out apply for residency in the country and see if it would be granted. After many prayers and hardships we are thrilled to announce that all of them received it! Residency will allow them to live permanently in the country for up to three years, and this can even be extended to a five-year residency permit with some extra paperwork.
The importance of this development is monumental for the further work of missions in Russia. While complicated to get through, the door is NOT closed! Knowing that foreign Christian workers can still apply for and receive residency to live in the country has energized our recruitment efforts to place more personnel on the field. As part of my job with InterAct I will be helping to recruit, train and place new missionaries in Russia. I ask that you would pray with us that the Lord would send more workers into the harvest.