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Seeing reports that Russia introduced ‘exit visas’ for foreigners? It is true? Spoiler alert: nope.

Meduza
02:15, 17 june 2017

Sergey Grits / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Television news anchor Anna Mongait made headlines in Russia on Thursday evening, after describing in a Facebook post an incident at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, where officials reportedly refused to allow her family’s nanny to board their flight for Spain, even fining the woman, all supposedly because she lacked an “exit visa.” The story led to several reports in the Russian media, including a retracted article on this website, claiming that Russia had “quietly introduced exit visas for some foreigners.” Meduza takes a closer look at this now debunked news.

In Mongait’s own words

“A man came out from the torture room [sic] and he not only didn’t let our nanny come with us to Spain, but he required her to pay a 2,000-ruble ($35) fine for coming to the airport’s passport control area ‘uninformed’ without an exit visa. They supposedly introduced exit visas 10 days ago (some people are writing in Facebook comments that they’ve been in place for almost 15 years). Nobody knows about them, but you can already get hit with a fine. It takes them 20 days to process all the paperwork, and you’ve got to collect a whole mess of documents.”

Factchecking

Russia has never had special “exit visas” for foreigners.

When foreigners leave Russia, they are indeed expected to produce a visa, but it’s not an “exit visa.” Officials will ask to see the entry visas visitors used to come to Russia in the first place. There is legislation in place codifying these regulations. Exempt from this procedure are foreigners with residence permits and citizens from countries that have signed agreements with Russia for visa-free travel.

In the past, foreigners sometimes had to be issued new entry visas in order to exit Russia.

Until recently, conflicts would often occur where a foreigner arrived in Russia on a visa, then received a temporary residence permit while in Russia, lived in the country for some time, and then encountered problems when trying to exit Russia. Border officials would ask to see the individual’s entry visa, discover that it had expired, and then they’d impose a fine. Having a residence permit didn’t help. Meanwhile, any unpaid fines could become grounds for denying the renewed visa needed to exit Russia. In theory, Russia’s Migration Service was supposed to warn people about this catch-22, but their administrative policy made no mention of the problem.

Russia’s judicial system has ruled that it’s illegal to require exit visas.

In early 2016, Russia’s Constitutional Court heard an appeal by Nigerian citizen Hudson Uwangue, ruling that foreigners caught in the situation described above must be allowed to leave the country. The court also banned fines in these circumstances, granting foreigners the right of free exit, though foreigners must obtain a new, valid visa, in order to return to Russia. Additionally, justices recommended changing the law to eliminate this legal ambiguity.

Beginning in 2017, additional visas aren’t required for foreigners with residence or work permits.

On June 9, 2017, amendments to federal migration laws entered force, removing the need for an additional visa in these circumstances. Now, when foreigners are issued residence permits, their visas are renewed for the entire duration of their permits, not just an additional four months, as used to be the case. It’s unknown, however, if foreigners who received their residence permits before these amendments took effect are still required to ask Russia’s Interior Ministry for visa extensions. The original draft of the legislation stated that visas would be extended “without additional appeals” by individuals, but the final text of the law doesn’t mention a word about the extension of visas. 

It seems Anna Mongait’s nanny was fined illegally.

According to Mongait’s Facebook post, the officials who confronted her nanny seem to have entirely ignored the conclusions of Russia’s Constitutional Court. The woman should have been allowed onto the plane and the authorities had no right to fine her.

Russian text by Denis Dmitriev, translation by Kevin Rothrock