Kommersant report on rumored upcoming changes to Russian legislation on immigration policy:
- “Russia should be open not only to ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, but all those who are loyal to it and are prepared to integrate.
- The President will get the right to specify certain groups of foreigners and allow them to undergo a simplified naturalization process for humanitarian reasons. This will apply to foreign citizens and people without citizenship who arrive in Russia from countries where they are “persecuted for political or other reasons, which have had revolutions, armed conflicts, or other emergencies.”
- There will also be simplified naturalization procedures for participants in a program to repatriate Russians living abroad.
- Officials openly say that the intended target of these policies is the Ukraine. Others also say that it may include Transnistria, Moldova, and the Baltics. These changes are linked to Putin’s open line on June 7, when a group of refugees from south-east Ukraine complained to him that they had no documents or opportunities to acquire them. Back then, Putin called for a “liberalization of the Russian naturalization process”, and we are now seeing the results of that.
- In addition to the proposed law, there is also a new “concept” for reforming Russian immigration policy by 2025, which mostly centers around simplifying naturalization for certain categories of foreign professionals. One concrete suggestion that’s known to be included is dropping the requirement to disavow existing citizenships upon getting a Russian citizenship. Hungary, Romania, and Poland are cited as examples to emulate.
On the whole these changes look good, though there are certain points of concern.
1. The necessity to simplify citizenship procedures for people fleeing the Ukraine has long been evident. There are horror stories of Maidan regime opponents facing deportation every month. Fortunately, my impression is that the vast majority of these cases are overturned, but there have been a few that weren’t, with the result that Russophiles were sent back into the loving embrace of the SBU. This is ethically grotesque, and it is good that something is being done about it, even if it is at least four years too late.
2. That said, making “humanitarian reasons” a condition of simplified naturalization doesn’t change the existing, bureaucratically punishing process for Russians in Belorussia and Central Asia. It also opens the way for a #RefugeesWelcome scenario under a future liberally-inclined regime, e.g. if there’s a drought in Uzbekistan, or a new civil war in Tajikistan.
3. If Russia was a national state like Israel, it would introduce a “Russian Card” (карта русского) that any Russian abroad – including all Ukrainians and Belorussians, as subsets of the All-Russian nation – will have a right to. This Russian Card, which Russian nationalists have been advocating for at least the past decade, will allow its holders to access a range of government services in Russia, including simplified naturalization. But since the Russian Federation is not a national state, but a “multi-national” one (многонациональность), the Russian Card is not on the cards for the time being.
4. Dropping the requirement to disavow old citizenships upon naturalization is a very good idea that I have long advocated. This is a very stupid law that inhibits the growth of human capital in Russia, and which needs to be abolished ASAP. Qualified foreigners without a criminal record. who have some level of proficiency with the Russian language, should be allowed to become citizens without giving up their old citizenships. But the occasional extremely Russophile and/or idealist aside, a Finnish, Austrian, or even American citizenship are too valuable to just toss away, even with the best will in the world.
I know several expats in Moscow who speak fluent Russian (more or less) and would love to get Russian citizenship, but are held back from doing so by these rules. One is the long-term partner of a Russian citizen. Another is a descendant of Tsarist generals. Another is the descendant of a famous Russian composer part of whose family became White emigres. Another is a scientist at a prestigious Russian university. This is just off the top of my head. Any of these are much better candidates than some of the people whom Russia takes in.
The only downside I can think of is that this might annoy the very few individuals who actually have given up Western citizenships for a Russian one.
5. Moreover, I would go further and argue that Russia should also sell citizenships, like most of the “civilized” world does. It would be great if Russia were to become a refuge for, and benefit from, Western crooks. They will be portrayed as victims of Western human rights abuses, just like their Russian counterparts gallivanting around London. Shkreli did nothing wrong! But like the Russian Card idea, this will have to wait for another day.