Russia is a migrant destination country with a steady flow of labor migrants and refugees. Depending on an individual migrant’s situation or his or her country of origin, a migrant to Russia can be granted a refugee status or may receive temporary asylum. Refuge and temporary asylum policies are developed according to the nation’s Constitution, a set of laws and federal regulations, and international obligations under the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Federal Migration Service is the federal government agency with regional offices across the country that is in charge of implementing all migration-related policies, monitoring migration processes, and managing migrant assistance and resettlement programs. Petitioning for refuge and asylum status in Russia is a complicated process, which must be initiated from abroad or at a border crossing. Applicants are subject to multilevel background review procedures. Migrants who receive legal status in Russia are entitled to receive the same social and medical benefits as Russian nationals. They are resettled within the country according to regional quotas defined by the federal government, are limited in selecting places of residence, and have their travels inside Russia monitored by the authorities. Simplified procedures for granting refugee status are foreseen for migrants from Ukraine who were affected by the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict. After residing in Russia for one year, refugees are allowed to apply for naturalization.
Migration is a significant issue for Russia, which has the second longest land border of any country at 12,577 miles, and more than 23,000 miles of coastline. Russia shares borders with fourteen countries and, according to recent data from the World Bank, is among the top five migrant destination countries. Russia, with 12.3 million immigrants, was the second most frequent migrant destination country in the world after the US in 2010. Most immigrants moved to Russia primarily for economic reasons.
The majority of migrants to Russia are coming from the former Soviet republics of Transcaucasia and Central Asia; countries of the Middle East and North Africa affected by recent conflicts; and Ukraine where, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly one million people were internally displaced by the ongoing conflict with Russia in the southeastern part of the country. Since February 2014, some 600,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum or other forms of legal stay in neighboring countries, mainly in the Russian Federation.
The Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation (FMS), a government agency dealing with migration, reported that in 2014, 6,980 people from sixty-five countries applied for refugee status, and 267,764 people requested temporary asylum in the Russian Federation. Most applicants were from Ukraine (5,789 refugee applicants and 265,448 temporary asylum seekers), Syria (473 refugee applicants and 1,435 temporary asylum seekers), and Afghanistan (301 and 396 respectively).
Illegal migration is a substantial problem for Russian migration control services; however, after the automated migration control system became fully operational in 2014, and following the adoption of laws that increased punishments for overstaying visas and established simplified procedures for receiving work permits by labor migrants, the number of foreign nationals who are in the country illegally has decreased. Reportedly, more than 1.2 million foreigners were deported and banned from reentry for lengthy periods of time for overstaying their visas in 2014.
According to the FMS, the aim of all major legislative and regulatory activities in the field of migration is to better regulate migratory processes and minimize the negative consequences of unregulated migration.
The Russian Federation declares its adherence to international standards in the definition of “refugee” and the grounds on which refugee status can be granted. In 1992, Russia joined the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. Based on these key legal documents, Russia provides refuge to foreign nationals and stateless persons on its territory by granting political asylum, granting temporary asylum, or recognizing refugee status. Article 63 of the Russian Constitution states that “[t]he Russian Federation shall grant political asylum to foreign nationals and stateless persons according to the universally recognized norms of international law.”
II. Legislation on Refugees and Temporary Asylum
In Russia, issues of migration are regulated by federal legislation. Major principles establishing refugee and temporary asylum policies are defined by the national Constitution, and by legislative acts regulating the registration and entry of foreign nationals and stateless persons into the country and granting them refugee status or providing temporary asylum. These include federal laws on
- entry into and exit from the Russian Federation,
- migration registration of foreign nationals and stateless persons,
- legal status of foreign citizens, and
Procedural issues are resolved by a set of government resolutions and rules, including a resolution on granting temporary asylum in the territory of the Russian Federation, a resolution on granting temporary asylum to citizens of Ukraine and stateless persons through a simplified procedure, and provisional simplified rules for granting temporary asylum to citizens of Ukraine and stateless persons.
All migration-related policies are implemented by the Federal Migration Service, a government agency operating through its regional bodies in all eighty-five constituent components of the Russian Federation within the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Constituent components impact immigration policies mainly by cooperating with federal authorities in defining annual quotas for receipt of migrants and providing assistance to the federal government in running local migrant assistance programs. Commentators note that existing regulations and directives are not comprehensive or systematic, and are not clear in defining the rights of refugees, procedural requirements, and deadlines for the submission of documents. The vagueness and complexity of Russian legislation regarding refugees appears to be one reason for the existence of corruption in the field of refugee acceptance and processing, usually in the form of extorting bribes for processing and releasing refugee documents. Reportedly, local FMS officers request payments in an amount approximately equal to US$1,000 for “fast and trouble-free” document processing.
The increased role of local authorities in implementing migration policies is foreseen by the recently adopted National Concept of Migration Policy, which states that proper legislative regulation must be instituted in order to involve the authorities at all levels, from local to federal, in mitigating ongoing and forthcoming conflicts. Regional attitudes toward participation in federal programs aimed at refugee resettlement differ depending primarily on the economic situation in the region. Because budget appropriations for the FMS do not take into account periodic influxes of refugees, the main impact is borne by the regions, which are often not able to sustain these expenses. As a rule, in order to accept and support a new population, regions establish new taxes on local residents.
III. Process for Obtaining Refugee Status and Temporary Asylum
A. Refugee Status
The basic method for protecting foreign nationals and stateless persons in the territory of the Russian Federation is to recognize them as refugees. According to Russian legislation, a refugee is
a person who is not a citizen of the Russian Federation and who because of a well-founded fear of becoming a victim of persecution by reason of race, religion, citizenship, national or social identity or political convention is to be found outside the country of his nationality and is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of this country due to such fear, or having lost his or her nationality and staying beyond the country of his or her former place of residence as a result of similar developments, cannot return to it and does no wish to do so because of such fear.
This definition is almost entirely the same definition as that found in the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.
The Federal Law on Refugees states that a person who has expressed his/her wish to be recognized as a refugee and who has attained eighteen years of age can apply for refugee status either personally or through an authorized representative via the diplomatic mission or the consular office of the Russian Federation in his/her place of residence or outside the state of his/her nationality. Foreign nationals or stateless persons can also apply for recognition as a refugee at a checkpoint on the state border of the Russian Federation. If they are forced to cross the Russian border illegally, potential refugees must apply for a status during the next twenty-four hours after crossing the border at the checkpoint or beyond it. This can be done at the federal executive body in charge of security dealing with the border service, at the regional agency of the federal executive body for internal affairs, or at the regional agency of the federal executive body dealing with the migration service.
According to Russian Federation legislation, applications for refugee status must be filed by all adult applicants and by unaccompanied minors. The ensuing procedure for determining refugee status comprises two stages: the preliminary examination of an application for granting refugee status and the examination of an application on the merits.
During the first stage of the application process, the authorities define whether conditions that constitute the grounds for recognizing a person as a refugee are present or absent. The waiting period for applicants who are outside of Russia is one month from the date the application is received by the diplomatic mission or the consular office. For those who apply for refugee status at a border checkpoint or inside the Russian territory, the process takes up to five business days to complete.
Following the results of the preliminary examination of an application, persons are either issued a certificate stating that their application has been received or a notice of refusal of their application. A certificate serves as the document that identifies the person who is seeking refugee status. After receiving a certificate, applicants must surrender their national (civil) passport and/or other identification documents. These documents are stored in the regional bodies of the FMS in the area where the applicant was assigned housing.
Submission of a refugee status application changes the legal status of a petitioner and entitles him or her to certain rights, such as the right to have an interpreter, receive a one-time lump-sum grant for every family member accompanying the applicant (the amount varies but must be no less than one hundred rubles (approximately US$1.41) per person, receive a place to live in a temporary accommodation center and receive food and medical aid there, and receive vocational training and job placement assistance. Those who have received the certificate are required to undergo a mandatory medical examination. Refusal to undergo medical checks can be a ground for denial of a petitioner’s application.
During the second stage of determining one’s refugee status, a more detailed review of information presented in the application is carried out. A decision on granting refugee status must be made on the basis of interviewing the applicant and verifying the truthfulness of information provided by the given person and his/her family members, reviewing information about the applicant in the possession of Russian authorities, and evaluating the circumstances of the applicant’s arrival in Russia and the grounds for his/her stay in the country. The law does not limit the number of interviews that may be requested of an applicant in order to clarify the facts he/she has provided.
Following the results of the examination of an application, a decision is taken to either grant refugee status and provide the applicant with a refugee certificate that replaces all of his/her former documents, including foreign IDs, and serves as the only identification document recognized by Russian authorities, or to deny the refugee status application.
A refugee certificate is valid throughout the territory of the Russian Federation and gives the refugee the right to stay in the country. Information on minor children of refugees is entered on the certificate of one of the parents. While refugee status is granted for an unspecified period, the Law on Refugees requires persons who have this status to undergo re-registration with the FMS every year and a half.
Persons recognized as refugees, including accompanying family members, are entitled to the following rights:
- Information about their rights and responsibilities through translation services if required, including assistance with document processing
- A travel allowance and baggage shipment to their assigned place of residence
- Protection by the Ministry of Internal Affairs at the place of temporary accommodation to ensure their safety
- Food and public utilities in the centers of temporary accommodation
- Access to housing paid from a special fund for temporary accommodation
- Medical assistance in an amount equal to that received by Russian citizens
- Vocational training and job placement assistance
- Employment or the opportunity to establish their own business
- Social protection and social security
- Participation in public activities
B. Temporary Asylum
Apart from granting refugee status, the Russian Federation provides individuals with the possibility of obtaining temporary asylum, which, according to the Law on Refugees, creates the possibility for a foreign national or a stateless person to stay temporarily in Russia. Temporary asylum can be granted for a foreigner whose application for refugee status was denied but who cannot be expelled from the territory of the Russian Federation for humanitarian reasons. However, the Law does not specify what motives or reasons can be regarded as “humanitarian.” Granting temporary asylum for humanitarian reasons falls within the discretion of the decision-making body.
To receive temporary asylum in Russia, a foreign national or a stateless person must file an application with the regional bodies of the FMS. Upon receiving the application, the applicant is issued a certificate indicating that he/she has applied for temporary asylum in the country, which gives him/her the official right to stay in the territory of Russia. The term of consideration of the application is up to three months.
All applicants are subject to fingerprinting conducted simultaneously with the submission of their application, and to a compulsory medical examination. They are required to meet certain health standards in order to be eligible for asylum.
The decision on granting an asylum application is made by the regional bodies of the FMS. If a positive decision is issued, an applicant receives a certificate of temporary asylum in the Russian Federation. This certificate is the main identifying document for the bearer in the territory of Russia, substituting national documents, which are surrendered to local bodies of the FMS.
Temporary asylum is granted for one year; however, it can be renewed annually.
C. Temporary Asylum for Citizens of Ukraine
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has been ongoing since March 1, 2014, has resulted in mass migration from the territory of Ukraine. According to the World Bank, Russia to Ukraine and Ukraine to Russia are the next largest migration corridors in the world, following only the migration corridor from Mexico to the United States. According to the FMS, during the period from April 1, 2014, to September 4, 2015, 1,056,587 citizens of southeast Ukraine arrived and are currently staying in the territory of the Russian Federation.
To regulate the flow of migrants from the territory of Ukraine to Russia, the government adopted the Regulation on Granting Temporary Asylum for Citizens of Ukraine in the Territory of the Russian Federation through Simplified Procedure and Provisional Simplified Rules for Granting Temporary Asylum in the Territory of the Russian Federation for Citizens of Ukraine and Stateless Persons.
According to the rules, an applicant and members of his or her family may apply for temporary asylum at the local office of the FMS or at one of the multifunctional centers of federal and municipal services created for the purpose of handling the recent influx of Ukrainian refugees. Applicants and accompanying family members are fingerprinted when submitting their asylum applications and undergo health checks within ten days after arrival.
The decision on granting temporary asylum is made by the local FMS office where the application was submitted within three days after submission.
According to official statistics, since the beginning of 2014 through September 4, 2015, 6,065 Ukrainian citizens have applied and received refugee status in Russia; 387,150 people received temporary asylum; permissions for temporary residence were issued to 249,324 people; 139,696 individuals participated in the program for voluntary resettlement of compatriots from abroad to the Russian Federation; 119,364 former Ukrainian nationals were naturalized as Russian citizens; and residence permits were given to 56,513 migrants.
Because most of the arriving refugees are unskilled laborers, they are settled in the regions with the ability to absorb such a population that have available jobs in construction, manufacturing, or natural resources exploration. Scholars emphasize the lack of a proper policy to support and utilize refugees effectively and advocate the creation of a national database of specialist skills needs, which would allow for the selection and allocation of refugees based on their skills and experience.
IV. Monitoring of Refugees’ Travel and Relocation
Federal Law No. 159 regulates the entry and exit of foreigners into and out of Russia. The Law provides that an individual’s passport and a visa issued by the consular office of the Russian Federation abroad are required to provide entry to the Russian territory. The Law also states that foreign nationals and stateless persons who receive refugee status may leave and enter the Russian Federation on the basis of a refugee travel document because, as long as they enjoy refugee or asylum status in Russia, they are not supposed to use their foreign identification papers and are required to surrender passports issued by foreign states to local offices of the FMS (see discussion in Part II(A), above).
The refugee travel document identifies the bearer and is issued in the form of a paper document for five years. This document also contains an electronic chip, which stores personal data, an electronic image of the person’s face, and index fingerprints.
Refugees and people with temporary asylum status are randomly settled throughout Russia according to quotas issued to all constituent components of the federation by the government. If possible, refugees’ preference of a region in which they wish to settle is taken into account. Upon arrival to the assigned place of residence, refugees and asylees are required to register with local FMS authorities and report name changes, address changes, and changes in marital status within seven days of the change. Those who decide to change their place of permanent residency must be removed from the registry and re-register in their new place of residence within seven days. Since June 2015, individuals have not been required to re-register if they travel or stay away from their regular place of residency for a longer period within the same regional unit of the Russian Federation.
Regional bodies of the FMS collect information about refugees and those who were granted temporary asylum, as well as those who lose or have been deprived of their refugee status or temporary asylum. They keep records and send it to a government database, the State Information System of Migration Control. The system is maintained by the FMS and information collected is shared with other government law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs (federal police), Federal Security Service, Ministry of Mass Communications, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Federal Tax Service. The personal biographic information of migrants, including their biometric data; employment and education records; criminal records; dates of allowed presence in Russia; reasons and circumstances related to their migration to Russia; deportation records; and information on their legal representatives, relatives, and children must be recorded in the system.
V. Path to Citizenship
Foreign nationals and stateless persons who have reached eighteen years of age and have legal capacity may apply for citizenship of the Russian Federation after meeting a number of requirements specified by law, which include a period of residence of no less than five years in the territory of the Russian Federation with a permanent residence permit, a legitimate source of livelihood, the obligation to follow the Constitution and laws of Russia, renunciation of the applicants non-Russian citizenship, and proven knowledge of the Russian language.
The residency requirement is shortened to one year for those granted refugee status.
Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research and
Foreign Law Consultant
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 For more information on recent measures aimed at improving the monitoring of migrants present in Russia,see Peter Roudik, Russia: Re-Entry Restrictions for Illegal Migrants, Global Legal Monitor (Feb. 27, 2015), //www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/russia-re-entry-restrictions-for-illegal-migrants/, archived at http://perma.cc/337L-B97H.
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 Government of the Russian Federation Resolution No. 690 of July 22, 2014, on the Granting of Temporary Asylum for Citizens of Ukraine and Stateless Persons in the Territory of the Russian Federation through Simplified Procedure, http://government.ru/media/files/41d4f3a5c06af7f5f50e.pdf (in Russian), archived at http://perma.cc/5NLT-R5H4.
 Provisional Simplified Rules for Granting Temporary Asylum in the Territory of the Russian Federation for Citizens of Ukraine and Stateless Persons of Aug. 1, 2014, http://government.ru/media/files/41d4f3a5 c06af7f5f50e.pdf (in Russian; scroll to page 3), archived at http://perma.cc/CA9X-V4NZ.
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 Beret, supra note 24.
 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, supra note 12.
 Federal Law No. 4528-I of Feb. 19, 1993 on Refugees art. 4.1.
 Id. art. 4.2.
 Id. art. 4.
 Id. art. 7.
 Id. art. 4.5.1.
 Id. art. 4.5.2; FMS, Administrative Rules No. 352 of August 18, 2013, on Reviewing Applications for Temporary Asylum and Refugee Recognition in the Russian Federation Territory, http://www.fms.gov.ru/documents/ regulations/item/1318/, archived at https://perma.cc/ZEQ5-J5KD.
 Federal Law No. 45-281 of Feb. 19, 1993 on Refugees art. 4.7.
 Id. art. 4.8.
 Id. art. 6.1.
 Id. art. 6.2.3.
 Id. art. 3.3.
 Id. art. 7.
 Id. art. 8.2.7.
 Id. art. 8.1.
 Id. art. 1.
 Id. art. 12.
 Government of the Russian Federation Resolution No. 274 of Apr. 9, 2001, on the Granting of Temporary Asylum in the Territory of the Russian Federation art. 2, available at http://www.fms.gov.ru/documents/ resolutions/item/2842 (in Russian), archived at http://perma.cc/6VM5-CN7L.
 Id. art. 3.
 Id. art. 6.
 Id. art. 8.
 Id. arts. 9–10.
 Id. art. 12.
 Press Release, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin Submitted an Address to the Federation Council (Mar. 1, 2014), http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20353, archived at http://perma.cc/6Y3V-MSJS.
 World Bank, supra note 2.
 Information on the Situation of the Emergency Mass Migration of Ukrainian Citizens and Stateless Persons from the Territory of Ukraine, FMS, http://www.en.fms.gov.ru/document/15549 (last visited Dec. 21, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/9ST2-3NYJ.
 Government of the Russian Federation Regulation No. 690 of July 22, 2014, on the Granting of Temporary Asylum for Citizens of Ukraine in the Territory of the Russian Federation through Simplified Procedure, http://government.ru/media/files/41d4f3a5c06af7f5f50e.pdf (in Russian), archived at http://perma.cc/5NLT-R5H4.
 Provisional Simplified Rules for Granting Temporary Asylum in the Territory of the Russian Federation for Citizens of Ukraine and Stateless Persons, http://government.ru/media/files/41d4f3a5c06af7f5f50e.pdf (in Russian; scroll to page 3), archived at http://perma.cc/CA9X-V4NZ.
 Id. art. 2.
 Id. art. 3.
 Id. art. 5.
 Information on the Situation of the Emergency Mass Migration of Ukrainian Citizens and Stateless Persons from the Territory of Ukraine, supra note 58.
 Beret, supra note 24.
 Id. art. 24.
 Id. art. 14.
 Government of the Russian Federation Resolution No. 274 of Apr. 9, 2001, on the Granting of Temporary Asylum in the Territory of the Russian Federation art. 14, available at http://www.fms.gov.ru/documents/ resolutions/item/2842 (in Russian), archived at http://perma.cc/6VM5-CN7L.
 Federal Law No. 197 of June 29, 2015, on Amendments to the Federal Law of the Russian Federation on Freedom of Movement and Selection of Place of Abode Within the Russian Federation art. 1(2), http://base.consultant.ru/ cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc;base=LAW;n=181859;fld=134;dst=100010;rnd=184768.9137759543070291;;ts=0184768919362153014077 (in Russian), archived at http://perma.cc/WEB6-ZAPR.
 Government Regulation No. 94 of February 14, 2007, on State Information System of Migration Control, Rossiiskaia gazeta Feb. 21, 2007, No. 37 (in Russian), available at http://base.garant.ru/190665/, archived at http://perma.cc/7HL5-ZYE3.
 Id. art. 13.2.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020