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New medical checks anger foreigners in Russia

Sergei Guscha
December 19, 2021

From the end of this year, foreigners working in Russia must be tested every three months for diseases like syphilis and leprosy, and for drugs. Foreign business associations are appealing to Moscow to revise the rules.

Gloved hands about to take blood from an arm
Foreigners in Russia will be required to provide regular proof that they are free of disease and drugsImage: Marijan Murat/dpa/picture alliance

Rarely has there been such outrage among foreigners living in Russia. A legal amendment made public just last week will require foreigners to undergo extensive medical checks. The amendment was approved by the Russian parliament in late June, almost six months ago, and is scheduled to take effect December 29.

The amendment states that foreign professionals, their family members living in Russia and any foreigner who wants to stay in the country for an extended period of time have to be tested every three months for infectious diseases, including syphilis, HIV, leprosy, tuberculosis, and COVID-19. They are also required to take a drug test and must submit their fingerprints and a biometric photo to the authorities.

Children over 6 to be tested for drugs and syphilis

The new rules will also apply to all children over the age of 6. If someone tests positive for any of the specified diseases, they will not be granted a visa, and any existing visa will be revoked. They will be designated "undesirable," and ordered to leave the country. Foreigners are already required to present a negative HIV test when applying for a work visa or a residence permit to stay in Russia for longer than 90 days.

The Russian government has not explained what it intends to achieve with the new regulations. However, a letter accompanying the draft law states that the 2.5 million citizens of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Uzbekistan in Russia constitute the majority of foreigners in the country and that they are only randomly subjected to medical tests. This, the letter pointed out, means there is a risk of the "infiltration and spread of dangerous infectious diseases in Russia."

Guest workers from Central Asia on a construction site in Moscow in 2015
The majority of foreign workers in Russia come from Central Asia, Belarus and MoldovaImage: DW/J. Vishnevetskaya

Belarusian citizens are explicitly exempted from the new rules — probably because Belarus and Russia are formally a "Union State." Belarusians do not need a visa to go to Russia, and if they seek employment there, the rules and requirements that apply to them are much simpler.

Little success modifying the new rules

According to Thorsten Gutmann, the spokesperson of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce (AHK Russia), his organization has been working behind the scenes for months to try to get the new regulations dropped. They have, however, had only minimal success.

"Originally, people were going to be required to take the tests every time they entered the country, but now they will have to do them every three months," Gutmann told DW.

The Russian authorities will decide where and how the tests are done. Foreigners living in Moscow will have to go to the migration center in Zakharovo, which is in the southwestern part of the capital, about 60 kilometers outside the city center.

A German businessman wrote a letter to the AHK after going to Zakharovo to try to complete the medical checks, in which he described what went on there as "pure harassment." The procedure took at least four whole working days, he reported. On the first day, he had to stand in line for hours in each of the four areas of the migration center, in order to undergo the required medical examinations — with several hundred migrant workers all in the same room.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I caught COVID there — hardly anyone was wearing a mask correctly, and there was no social distancing," he said.

Pedestrian silhouetted against Christmas decorations in front of St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
Foreigners living in Russia will be subject to the new rules from December 29Image: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

New rules described as "unacceptable"

On his second visit, the German businessman said, he spent the majority of a full working day in Zakharovo, "acting as 'courier' for the immigration service: collecting medical certificates and handing them in at the counter for highly skilled workers." The regulations state that you have to do everything yourself, in person. He then had to spend a third day there for the drug tests. By January at the latest, he will have to make another day trip to the migration center to complete a formal identification process and submit his fingerprints and a biometric photo.

The businessman described this whole procedure as "unacceptable," especially if it has to be repeated every three months, requiring a full lung X-ray each time. "If that's the case, I'm more likely to look for a different job in Germany. A lot of people probably feel the same," he wrote.

Appeal by ten foreign business associations

Germany's Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (OA) also reported a wave of indignation among German businesspeople in Russia. It said they "feel harassed — with reason." Both the OA and AHK Russia warned that these new changes in the law will significantly diminish Russia's attractiveness to foreign investment, and will also result in an exodus of skilled foreign workers. This, they pointed out, would put Russia's economic development at risk, as foreign specialists and executives make a significant contribution.

Rossiya Airlines plane landing in Moscow
The medical checks would have been required every time a person entered the country — now they'll be every three monthsImage: Marina Lystseva/dpa/ TASS/picture alliance

This week, in an initiative led by AHK Russia and the OA, 10 foreign business associations, including the Association of European Businesses and the American Chamber of Commerce, wrote to the Russian government to make clear that the new law would have serious consequences.

"We propose, among other things, reducing to a reasonable level the requirements for skilled foreign workers to prove they are in good health, and the retention of existing, more generous residence regulations, also for family members," the OA's spokesman, Christian Himmighoffen, told DW. He added that the OA was counting on the relevant authorities responding to its appeal: "From what we have seen, Russia continues to be very interested in cooperating with German companies," he said.

This article was translated from German.