Businesses Protest Russian Medical Tests for Expat Workers, Kids
(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s leading foreign trade associations denounced a new law requiring an elaborate set of regular medical examinations for sexually-transmitted diseases and drug use for all foreigners who work in the country, including their family members as young as seven years old.
“It has been a long time since a single piece of legislation has caused such a huge wave of incomprehension, disappointment, and indignation among thousands of foreign managers,” said Matthias Schepp, Chairman of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce. “There is a danger that Russia will lose its attractiveness as a place to work for many foreign managers.”
Under the law that takes effect Dec. 29, virtually all foreigners living in Russia will face quarterly X-rays and blood and urine tests for diseases including leprosy, tuberculosis, syphilis and HIV/AIDS. Examinations by drugs therapists, psychiatrists and infectious-diseases experts will be carried out in addition to new requirements to submit fingerprints and biometric photographs within 30 days of entry to Russia.
Russia should ease the rules and drop testing for foreigners listed as highly-qualified specialists as well as those who hold residency permits, according to a letter addressed to the government Monday that was seen by Bloomberg. The appeal was signed by 10 trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Association of European Businesses.
Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said he would raise the issue with the relevant medical and regulatory authorities at an annual meeting Monday with the European business lobby, according to two people familiar with the discussions who asked not to be identified because the meeting was not public.
“We are in constant dialog with the sanitary authorities, trying to strike a balance between restrictive measures and business interests,” the Economy Ministry press service said in response to a Bloomberg query.
The restrictions mark a reversal from years of attempts to make Russia more attractive to foreigners, including through the introduction of a streamlined visa program for highly-qualified specialists, amnesties for people whose immigration papers aren’t in order and by simplifying the process of obtaining citizenship.
Those efforts have had limited impact, with Russia ranking among the worst places globally for expats in a May survey for the InterNations group. Direct foreign investment last year was the lowest since 2003.
The new regulations apply both to highly qualified specialists and Russia’s large population of migrant laborers, many from former Soviet republics in central Asia, who make up the bulk of the country’s 11.6 million foreigners, according to United Nations estimates.
Russia, which was facing a shrinking workforce even before the Covid-19 pandemic put 2021 on track to be the deadliest year since World War II, can’t afford to turn away migrants. The lack of workers is threatening to be a drag on the economy as inflation is spiking and unemployment is at a record low.
The law was drafted for national security reasons and to improve health safety, according to an explanatory note attached to the legislation when it passed over the summer.
“Russia would be an outlier globally in requiring all this testing” said Nathan Hunt, chairman of the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association’s Moscow chapter. “That can’t help but have a negative impact on the trade and investment they need.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.