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Russia has started issuing ‘non-citizen passports.’ What does that mean?

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  • What happened?
  • What is a “non-citizen”? Is this a legal term in Russia? 
  • How does a person end up stateless?
  • Why do stateless persons need “non-citizen passports”?
  • Why does Russia make these exceptions for stateless persons?

What happened?

On January 11, Eva Merkacheva, who sits on the Presidential Council for Human Rights, told RIA Novosti that Russia had granted its first ever “non-citizen passport” to Yakubdzhan Khakimdzhanov, a stateless person originally from Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The 53-year-old immigrated to Astrakhan at the age of five, but never received Russian citizenship.

Later, Elena Burtina of the migrants’ rights organization Civic Assistance Committee clarified to Meduza that authorities in Moscow began issuing “non-citizen passports” in December 2021. Other Russian regions began issuing these identity documents even earlier, with roughly 600 people obtaining them last year.


What is a “non-citizen”? Is this a legal term in Russia? 

Russia doesn’t have a separate legal category of “non-citizens,” such as in Latvia and Estonia, for example. The people receiving “non-citizen passports” in Russia are, in fact, stateless persons. In Russian law, this refers to a category of people who are not citizens of Russia, but who also don’t have proof that they have the citizenship of a foreign state. According to the Interior Ministry, there are an estimated 4,500 stateless persons living in Russia today. As of August 2021, each of these people are eligible for a green “Temporary identity card of a stateless person in the Russian Federation.”


How does a person end up stateless?

Situations may vary, but in Russia stateless persons typically held citizenship of the former USSR. They may have been born in one of the union republics and, shortly before or after the collapse of the Soviet Union, moved to the Russian SFSR and, as a result, never received citizenship in their homeland or in Russia (unlike registered residents, who received Russian citizenship automatically). Or, they may have renounced their birth citizenship after their homeland gained independence, and never obtained another citizenship. 


Why do stateless persons need “non-citizen passports”?

These temporary identity documents allow stateless people to live and work in Russia legally for a period of ten years (with the possibility of extension). Unlike foreign nationals, they don’t need to apply for a work permit or a labor patent to be employed officially. 


Why does Russia make these exceptions for stateless persons?

Because they are viewed as one of the most vulnerable groups. Their legal status is considered an anomaly — one that UN member states agreed to combat in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Russia’s citizenship law explicitly states:

“The Russian Federation shall encourage stateless persons residing in the territory of the Russian Federation to acquire Russian Federation citizenship.”

Russia also has a special citizenship process for certain categories of stateless persons. In particular, it applies to citizens of the former USSR living in Russia, as well as their children; citizens of the former USSR living in other former Soviet republics; and those who were erroneously issued Russian passports before January 1, 2010. Other stateless persons must go through the same Russian citizenship process as foreign nationals.

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