Law Library Stacks

To view PDFs Acrobat Reader

Back to Guest Worker Programs

I. Introduction

According to the World Bank, Russia is the second most frequent migrant destination country in the world following the United States, with approximately 12.3 million immigrants who have moved to the country primarily for economic reasons.[1]  The Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, a government agency in control of the migration process, reported 9.1 million guest workers employed in Russia in 2012, mostly from the former Soviet states, China, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe.[2]  About one-quarter of officially admitted migrant workers from the countries that have visa arrangements with Russia are unskilled laborers working mostly in the construction and mining industries, and providing janitorial services.  About 35% of all migrants are concentrating in the city of Moscow.[3]

The recently approved Concept of the State Migration Policy for the Period Until 2025[4] is aimed at strengthening control over migration and migrants while simplifying procedures for legal labor migration.  Presently, unregulated labor migration and the use of workers who are in Russia illegally is a big problem.  According to the Federal Migration Service, between three and five million foreigners are working in Russia illegally,[5] and this creates intense pressure on the government and the Russian population in the areas of social protection, health care, residential living, and employment.[6]  Additionally, law enforcement agencies report constantly increasing numbers of crimes committed by foreigners.  Guest workers commit 15% of all crimes in Russia and are responsible for every fifth murder, every third theft, and every second rape committed in Moscow.[7]  In 2012, the office of the prosecutor general investigated 2,682 cases of migration legislation violations,[8] and each month approximately 2,000 migrant workers who are in Russia illegally are removed from the country.[9] 

Presently, the process of hiring foreign workers for the domestic labor market is regulated by Federal Law No. 115 of July 25, 2002, on the Legal Status of Foreign Individuals in the Russian Federation,[10] which was substantially amended by Federal Law No. 86 of May 19, 2010,[11] and a series of federal laws passed on December 30, 2012.[12]  Numerous implementing regulations issued by the government and individual executive agencies define procedures for recruiting foreign workers[13] and performing the paper work required to secure their legal status in the country.[14] 

Back to Top

II. Procedures for Admission as a Guest Worker

Presently, Russian legislation defines three types of procedures for hiring foreign laborers depending on their country of origin and the type of work they are going to perform, including

  • issuance of work permits to those who need visas to enter Russia,
  • issuance of work permits to those who do not need visas to enter Russia, and
  • issuance of labor licenses to those foreigners who want to perform “individual labor activities” (household work) in Russia and do not need entry visas.

The usage of a guest worker’s labor is based on two major documents—a permit to hire and use foreign labor and a work authorization for a foreign individual.  Both documents are issued by regional branches of the Federal Migration Service.[15] 

A.  Hiring Individuals Who Need Visas

The permit to hire and use foreign labor is issued after consultations with the regional authority in charge of employment issues.  These permits are issued within the quota annually established by the federal government.  Each year, the government defines how many work permits can be issued and how they are to be distributed among the constituent components of the Russian Federation, depending on the labor market situation and the opinion of Russian labor unions.[16]  Quotas are divided by regions, professions, and fields of employment.  During the last several years, approximately one and a half million guest workers were admitted to the country annually.  In 2012, the government ordered the issuance of 1.746 million permits to hire guest workers.[17]

In order to obtain a permit, an employer must submit a request.  The request must be approved by competent local authorities confirming that there is a necessity to hire foreigners.  A labor agreement must be drafted, and the employer must pay a fee in an amount equal to US$150.  Employers who have received permits to hire foreign guest workers must inform the Federal Migration Service of the conclusion of a labor contract with the guest worker within one month of obtaining the permit. 

Local offices of the Federal Migration Service provide employers with separate work authorizations that are issued for each guest worker.  This authorization, in the form of a plastic card, is the main document confirming the foreigner’s right to work in Russia.  It is also the main document used to substantiate the foreigner’s visa application.  Foreigners who came to Russia as guest workers, according to the annual quota, cannot change their employer for the duration of the labor contract, and are not eligible for hire by another employer after the labor contract’s expiration.[18] 

Labor migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States is regulated by a number of multilateral and bilateral agreements aimed at forming a common labor market.  The basic legislative policy in this field is determined by the nonbinding regional Convention on Labor Resources Migration, which follows rules and norms accepted by the United Nations and the International Labor Organization.[19]  Russia has concluded bilateral treaties with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.  As a rule, these agreements are identical, and provide for application of the domestic legal regime to guest workers.  The states have obligated themselves to recognize the education, work experience, seniority, entitlement to compensation for damages, and social security contributions of migrant workers.[20] 

In order to obtain a work permit in Russia, a foreigner from a country that has a visa-free agreement with the Russian Federation must submit an application with accompanying documents to the local office of the Federal Migration Service and pay an established fee, which presently equals US$70.  An applicant may not be younger than eighteen years of age, and the work permit must be issued within ten business days.  If a work permit is issued for more than a three-month period, an individual must find employment within the next thirty days, and pass medical examinations proving that he has no socially dangerous infectious diseases.  If an individual does not obtain employment within the thirty-day period, he must leave Russia regardless of the fact that his residency registration has not yet expired.[21] 

Back to Top

B.  Hiring Citizens of the EEC, Who Do Not Need Visas

Special rules were established in 2011 for the citizens of Belarus and Kazakhstan, countries which together with Russia form the Eurasian Economic Community.[22]  According to the three-state Agreement, citizens of Belarus and Kazakhstan have the same employment rights as Russian citizens.  This agreement means that the existing permit regime is not applicable to citizens of these countries and they can work in the Russian territory without restrictions.  Employers who hire citizens of Belarus or Kazakhstan do not need to obtain authorizations required in the case of hiring foreigners.  To start employment, a Belarusian or Kazakhstani citizen must submit to the employer documents proving the worker’s legal presence in Russia and other documents that are required by Russian labor law for Russian job seekers.  More lenient registration rules and procedures for the renewal of a labor contract are provided for Belarusian and Kazakhstani nationals.[23]

C. Hiring Household Workers, Who Do Not Need Visas

Licenses to perform “individual labor activities” in Russia can be purchased by foreigners, and such workers do not need visas to enter the country.  This group includes those who will be hired for work within their prospective employer’s household, such as gardeners, housekeepers, babysitters, or handymen, and will not be employed by a Russian judicial entity.  Since 2011, such workers have been required to purchase their labor licenses independently.[24]  The licenses cost about US$40 per month and are valid for three months, with a possible one-year extension.  In order to extend the license for another year after the expiration of the first fifteen-month period, the worker must provide proof of income and payment of taxes when submitting the extension petition to the Federal Migration Service.  A fine in an amount equal to US$200 is imposed on those who fail to purchase a license on time.  Patrolling local police officers are charged with the duty of checking the legality of foreigners’ presence in Russia, their labor licenses, and tax payment receipts, and they have the authority to issue fines on the spot.[25]  When this Law was passed, it was estimated that about 3.4 million foreign individuals were working in Russia as household assistants without having a formalized work status.[26]

Back to Top

III. Recruitment and Sponsorship

Presently, Russia does not have comprehensive recruitment programs.  As a rule, migrant workers conclude preliminary agreements with Russian employers before requesting entry visas or rely on services provided by Russian government agencies abroad.  Where an applicant does not have a preliminary agreement with the employer, he may request assistance from a local employment assistance office in the area of his residence in Russia.[27] 

Russian legislation makes an employer responsible for the migrants employed.  Employers must register labor contracts with the regional employment assistance office and keep that office informed about the contract’s duration and/or its dissolution.  The employer is required to register the residency of hired migrants and maintain their registration.  Also, the employer must inform tax authorities of the foreigner’s employment and submit the required tax withholdings.  Since July 2010, all foreign individuals permanently working and residing in Russia have been subject to the annual 13% flat income tax, the same as for Russian citizens.[28]  The Law also requires that mandatory health insurance for all foreign workers be paid by their Russian employers.[29]

Employers are responsible for monitoring the activities and behavior of the foreign workers they employ.  Employers must inform the responsible authorities of all the guest worker’s labor contract violations and of the termination of the labor contract before its anticipated expiration, and report all cases of the guest worker’s absence from his place of work or residence to federal security authorities.  If the guest worker commits a violation, the labor contract is annulled and he is notified of whether or not he must leave the country within a three-day period.  Employers who violate legislation regulating the use of foreign labor risk the loss of their permits and are subject to fines.[30]  If an employer commits a violation, a guest worker may be allowed to change his employment and execute a new labor contract for the remainder of his employment authorization when this period is no less than three months.[31]

Because under Russian law foreign workers must exit the country immediately after their employment is terminated (if they do not change their legal status), work authorizations are not issued unless the employer deposits enough funds to secure the transportation of each hired guest worker and his family members from Russia to their native country.  After the departure of the guest worker from the Russian Federation, this money is refunded to the employer.[32] 

Back to Top

IV. Visa Conditions

The majority of migrant workers in Russia do not need visas because they arrive from countries for which no visa is required to enter the Russian Federation.[33]  They can stay for ninety days without restriction in Russia, and then for the duration of their work authorization.[34]  For those who need visas, Russian entry visas are issued for the term of a work authorization’s validity, which initially cannot be longer than one year but may be extended for one additional year after the original visa’s expiration.  Guest worker visa applications must be submitted to a consular office of the Russian Federation abroad and can be denied on legal grounds.[35]  In an attempt to make Russia more attractive to labor migrants, amendments to the Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners, which entered into force on July 1, 2010, allowed guest workers to extend their work permits and visas without leaving the country, which was previously required.[36]  

While knowledge of Russian is not a requirement for obtaining an entry visa, since December 1, 2012, labor migrants who come to Russia from abroad cannot obtain work permits without proving their knowledge of the Russian language.  Passage of a special test and the receipt of a certificate serve as proof of such knowledge.[37]  According to commentaries on the amendments issued by the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, only those who intend to work in the fields of customer relations, communal and housing services, and retail operations are required to pass the test.[38]  Other official documents can be used as proof of Russian language ability if they are recognized in Russia.  For example, a diploma issued by a university in the former Soviet Union will be accepted, because at that time all Soviet Republic college-level education was conducted in Russian.[39]  The test was developed, the commentaries state, by taking into account the specific, typical abilities of migrants.  It is relatively short and simple, consisting of twenty-five vocabulary and grammar questions, and the administration time is up to ninety minutes.  Three new test-taking facilities were opened in Moscow to offer the exam.  The test can be taken in all the constituent components of the Russian Federation.[40]

With the purpose of fighting illegal migration, penalties for illegally crossing the Russian state border, for being in the country illegally, and for organizing illegal migration were increased in December 2012, making these offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years.[41]  The new law allows the government to deny entry to the country for three years to those who are caught in the country illegally or were forcefully removed from Russia previously.[42]

Back to Top

V. Admission Status of Family Members

Russian Law on Entry into and Exit from the Russian Federation states that a worker’s visa is extended to family members of the applicant only if the migrant is qualified as a highly-skilled specialist.  Family members are not covered by worker’s visas issued to temporary guest workers.  In these cases, family members need to apply for regular entry visas, which are issued according to Russian legislation.  The work authorization of a migrant worker does not automatically extend to other members of the worker’s family.[43]  An implementing government regulation defines procedures for the issuance of invitations for foreign and stateless individuals to visit Russia and allows migrant workers presently in the country to request admission of their family members as visitors.[44]

Back to Top

Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research
Global Legal Research Directorate
Februrary 2013



[1] World Bank, Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011, at IX, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/ INTLAC/Resources/Factbook2011-Ebook.pdf (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).

[2] Information on foreign labor migration reported by the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, http://www.fms.gov.ru/about/statistics/data/details/53595/ (official website; last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

[3] Russia Will Admit 1.74 Million Guest Workers, A Quarter of Whom are Unskilled, Newsru.com (Nov. 10, 2011), http://www.newsru.com/finance/10nov2011/migrants_print.html (in Russian; last visited Feb. 18, 2013).

[4] Approved by the Russian Federation President on July 13, 2012.  Text of the document is available in Russian on the website of the Russian Federal Migration Service, http://www.fms.gov.ru/law/868/details/53252/.

[5] Ministry of Health Care and Social Protection Increased Quotas for Labor Migrants, Newsru.com (Apr. 11, 2012), http://www.newsru.com/finance/11apr2012/migr_print.html (in Russian; last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

[6] E.A. Efimova, Foreign Workers on Labor Market of the Russian Federation Constituent Components, Problemy Sovremennoi Ekonomiki No. 1(37) (2011), http://www.m-economy.ru/art.php?nArtId=3502 (in Russian). 

[7] Experts Discussed That Every Fifth Person in Moscow is a Migrant Worker, Newsru.com (Feb. 6, 2013), http://newsru.com/russia/06feb2013/migranty_print.html (in Russian).

[8] Id.

[9] Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, supra note 2. 

[10] Federal Law No. 115 of July 25, 2002, on the Legal Status of Foreign Individuals in the Russian Federation (Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners), Sobranie Zakonodatelstva Rossiiskoi Federatsii [SZ RF] (official gazette) 2002, No. 30, Item 3032. 

[11] Federal Law No. 86 of May 19, 2010, Rossiiskaia Gazeta [Ros. Gaz.] (official publication), May 21, 2010, http://www.rg.ru/2010/05/21/grajdane-dok.html.

[12] SZ RF 2012, No. 53(1), Items 7637, 7638, 7640, 7645, 7646.

[13] Government Regulation No. 783 on Defining Needs of Federal Executive Agencies in Attracting and Using Foreign Work Force of December 22, 2006, SZ RF 2003, No. 1(2) Item 247. 

[14] Order No. 36 of the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation on Issuance of Work Permits to Foreigners of Feb. 26, 2009, http://www.fms.gov.ru/law/866/details/37132/ (official website of the Federal Migration Service; in Russian).

[15] Statute on the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, http://www.fms.gov.ru/about/condition/ (official website; in Russian).

[16] Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners art. 6, SZ RF 2002, No. 30, Item 3032.

[17] Newsru.com, supra note 5.

[18] Procedures for the Issuance of Work Permits to Those Who Need Visas to Enter the Russian Federation, Guidelines issued by the Federal Migration Service, http://www.fms.gov.ru/documents/withoutvisa/visa.php (official website, in Russian; last visited Feb. 25, 2013).

[19] Approved by the CIS Economic Council on Dec. 15, 2000 (not published officially), available at the Consultant legal database, http://base.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc;base=INT;n=25224 (by subscription).

[20] Texts of these agreements are available in Russian at the Federal Migration Service website, http://www.fms.gov.ru/law/1131/ (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).

[21] Procedures for the Issuance of Work Permits, supra note 18.

[22] Federal Law on Ratification of the Agreement on Legal Status of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, SZ RF 2011, No. 29, Item 4277.

[23] Procedures for the Issuance of Work Permits to Those Who Do Not Need Visas to Enter the Russian Federation, Guidelines issued by the Federal Migration Service, http://www.fms.gov.ru/documents/withoutvisa/ (official website, in Russian; last visited Feb. 25, 2013).

[24] Federal Law No. 86 of May 19, 2010, Ros. Gaz., May 21, 2010, http://www.rg.ru/2010/05/21/grajdane-dok.html.

[25] Id.

[26]  Statement of Vladimir Pligin, Chairman of the State Duma’s Constitutional Law Committee, quoted in Anastasiia Berseneva & Grigori Tumanov, Migranty Vyedut po Otpechatkam [Migrants Will Enter According to Fingerprints], Gazeta.ru, May 4, 2010, http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2010/05/04/3362449.shtml.

[27] Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners art. 13, SZ RF 2002, No. 30, Item 3032.

[28] Federal Law No. 86 of May 19, 2010, Ros. Gaz., May 21, 2010, http://www.rg.ru/2010/05/21/grajdane-dok.html.

[29] Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners art. 36, SZ RF 2002, No. 30, Item 3032. 

[30] Frequently Asked Questions: Legal Issues, Federal Migration Service, http://www.fms.gov.ru/treatment/ review/list.php?ID=895 (official website; last visited Feb. 25, 2013).

[31] Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners art. 5.

[32] Federal Migration Service, supra note 30.

[33] S. Shohzoda, Russian Federation, in Zashchita Sotsialnyh I Trudovyh Prav Migrantov na Prostranstve SNG [Protection of Social and Labor Rights of Migrants in the CIS] 147 (Apr. 2012), at http://www.mirpal.org/files/files/sbornik_blok_print.pdf (in Russian).

[34] Federal Law on Exit From and Entry Into the Russian Federation, SZ RF 1996, No. 34, Item 4029, § IV.

[35] Id.

[36] Federal Law No. 86 of May 19, 2010, Ros. Gaz., May 21, 2010, http://www.rg.ru/2010/05/21/grajdane-dok.html.

[37] Federal Law of Nov. 12, 2012 on Amending Article 13(1) of the Federal Law on Legal Status of Foreigners and Article 27 of the Federal Law on Education, Ros. Gaz. Nov. 14, 2012.

[38] Migrants’ Russian Skills Will be Tested as of December, Novaya Gazeta, Dec. 3, 2012 (in Russian).

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Federal Law No. 312 on Amending Article 322 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, SZ RF 2012, No. 53(1), Item 7637.

[42] Id.

[43] Federal Law No. 114 on Entry into and Exit from the Russian Federation, Ros.Gaz., Aug. 22, 1996, http://www.rg.ru/1996/08/22/vjezd-vyezd-dok.html.

[44] Regulation No. 996 of Dec. 24, 2008, Ros.Gaz. Jan. 16, 2008, http://www.rg.ru/2008/01/16/postavshiki-dok.html.

Back to Top