Legal lawlessness

In terms of demographic crisis, the aging of population and the lack of labor forces state authorities to recognize the huge role of migration in empowering the Russian economy. The state strives to govern the migration process, to regulate it fully in its own interests. Building a migration policy and correcting laws, the state defines the norms and procedures. Compliance makes the migration processes manageable, i.e. “legal,” and the people “legal migrants.” Legal entry into the territory of the Russian Federation, legal residence and legal employment are the three pillars on which the legal status of foreign worker is based. Only by being in this “legal” area, a person gets the right to protection of the state he or she is controlled by. The rest, “illegal migrants,” are deprived of their rights and unprotected. Being controlled by state laws, they are deprived of the right to legal protection, but they also threaten the whole migration regime. This is “illegal migration.”

On the 29th of April, 2010 an extended session of the Committee of the Federation Council on Constitutional laws with participation of the Federal Migration service of the Russian Federation on the migration practice took place. The Deputy Head of the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, Yekaterina Yegorova, said that migration is “a resource positively influencing the economy of the country” and did not fail to point out that “an active struggle against illegal migration has been taking place recently”. In 2009, she said, “34,000 illegal migrants were expelled from the country.”

Who are those 34,000 deported workers? Lawbreakers and criminals? Or maybe, victims? The experience of the Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial in ethnic minorities and migrant-workers rights advocacy shows how foreign workers become illegal in the Russian territory.

Zevetdin S. and Devlet S., citizens of Uzbekistan, arrived in Russia in June of 2009. At once they received a notice for migration registration. In August they addressed the legal consultation office “Yedinstvo” (Unity) located at 44 Nevsky prospect. Anna, a manager of the firm, told them that the Yedinstvo company would issue them a work permit and a one-year valid registration in Saint Petersburg – and all of this would cost only 11,000 rubles! Zevetdin and Devlet were told that everything is included. They were assured that the firm “cooperates with the Federal Migration Service”, and would organize everything including state taxes, passport translation, and medical tests. The brothers just had to pay. Unfortunately, Zevetdin and Devlet agreed. For the next three weeks the firm did not contact the clients, and the manager Anna politely answered to all of Zevetdin’s call, that the work was being processed and the migrants would receive the documents in a few days. After the three-month provisional registration expired, Anna called Zevetdin and said that the firm did not manage to apply to the department of the FMS, so Zevetdin and Devlet must return to Uzbekistan, then cross the Russian border again and come to the office of Yedinstvo with a new migration card. In a request to return the money paid for the services, Anna stated there would be no possibility to do it as “it is crisis now.” The firm is still experiencing “the crisis” – the efforts by the cheated to get back at least a part of the money remain in vain.

Zevetdin has been living for 10 months without registration and work permit in a village in the Leningrad region. He works as a builder which allows him to maintain his family and bribe the police. Now he is an “illegal migrant”, a lawbreaker who does not pay taxes and violates migration regime, and according to the law, must be deported. But the Yedinstvo Company still exists and works in the center of St Petersburg dooming “our city’s guests” to misery and suppression of their rights. The cheaters play safe: according to the contracts, they only consult and do not bear material responsibility for their activities. The firm benefits the state, to be more precise, state officials, as they said “up to 50% of the paid money is transferred to the proper state bodies.”

Every migrant arriving to St Petersburg must obtain a work permit and provisional registration. Where could they address for a consultation in a foreign country? Of course, “the Municipal Service on Migration Help”, an organization located in the very center of the city. Its symbols contain the colors of the state flag. Their advertisement can be found at the entrance to any metro station. “The Municipal Service on Migration Help”, “Inostranets” (Foreigner), “Inostranets-3” (Foreigner), “Zakonnoye pravo” (Legal law), create an image of reputable companies cooperating with state organs. These companies work mostly with migrants. The foreign workers are offered invitations for entry into Russia, organizing deparure from the country for a new migration card, issuing of provisional registrations and work permits, provision of accommodations in a dormitory and other “help”.

Unfortunately, migrants do not have access to the Internet, otherwise they would easily find out that the company “Inostranets” (or “Zakonnoye pravo”) has a reputation as swindlers cheating not only migrants but also Russian citizens (http://www.rtr.spb.ru/people_line/viewmsg.asp?ID=134937&FID=103806).

The anti-discrimination center “Memorial” has did not learn about Zakonnoye pravo’s activities from the Internet. On the 15th of February, 2010 Gulasal E., a citizen of Uzbekistan, asked Zakonnoye pravo for help with getting a work permit. She was promised a work permit in 14 workdays. After she paid 11,500 rubles (5,500 for the rendering of services, 3,000 for medical tests without waiting, 2,000 for state tax, and 1,000 rubles for work contract) to the firm, Gulasal signed the contract for the rendering of these services. The promised services were postponed by the company several times. Only on the 15th of March Gulasal found out that her passport needed to be translated into Russian. After some time, the acting director of Zakonnoye pravo, Yulia Topalova, told Gulasal that she could get her work permit in a department of the Federal Migration Service on the 30th of March, but the workers of the department refused to issue the permit saying that no documents of hers were submitted. Zakonnoye pravo assured Gulasal that her documents were submitted and that the problem would be resolved “by tomorrow” and she would get her work permit. She was getting these promises for two weeks. On the 13th of April Gulasal approached the ADC Memorial, and a request to return money for unexecuted services was prepared. After long negotiations with the director of Zakonnoye pravo, Svetlana Zagorskaya, Memorial struggled against the resistance of the firm personnel and unwillingness of the company to compensate the moral and material damage. They managed to get a written guarantee for Gulasal E. extending the obligations of Zakonnoye pravo to do everything possible to solve the problem of Gulasal. As a result of the cooperation with this firm, Gulasal lost 11,500 rubles and the possibility to work in Russia legally. She had to leave the country for Uzbekistan.

In the office of Zakonnoye pravo, the workers of Memorial met other citizens of Uzbekistan cheated by this company. Since the 15th of February, 2010 the services “of legal assistance” (costing 10, 5000 rubles) have been rendered for Gulsara T. She has waited for her work permit without any result. The acting director of the company, Yuria Topalova, after two months of promises and phone negotiations, only in the middle of May gave her a letter of referral for medical tests paid for in February. The submission of documents to the Federal migration service is not even mentioned.

Mashkhura M. signed the contract for work permits and “legal assistance” with Zakonnoye pravo on the 28th of February, 2010, but she took the medical tests only on the 16th of April and still did not have her work permit. Moreover, only after the ADC Memorial intervened into the situation, Zakonnoye pravo stopped asking for another payment for state tax, though the receipt of the first payment was still in the contract. As the result of this multi-month long ordeal, Mashkhura lost all her savings of 11,000 rubles and the status of a legal migrant as the provisional registration expired.

Bakhtiyor Kh. and Khamid R. paid 22,000 rubles to Zakonnoye pravo after they signed contracts on the 6th of March, 2010. In April they paid for medical tests, and Yulia Topalova said they do not need to come for these tests and their work permits will be issued by the middle of April. After unsuccessful efforts by Bakhtiyor and Khamid to find out anything about the results of the firm’s activities, they were told they should come for the medical tests in the beginning of May, and the documents had not yet been submitted to the FMS. On the 7th of May their provisional registrations expired, and they had to hide from the police in the suburbs of St Petersburg. They had neither money nor hope of returning to their home country. Even a trip to an arbiter with the company was impossible for them.

The stories of the citizens of Uzbekistan who came to Memorial show how Zakonnoye pravo works. When a foreign worker arrives in Russia, they get a 3-month provisional registration. They then petition the company offering services to quickly issue a work permit and one-year registration in St Petersburg. During the first visit to the company’s office migrants are told that the company could issue the documents in 14 days for 11,000 rubles. This includes state tax, translation of passport into Russian, “help” with medical tests, help drawing a contract with an employee “for paying taxes”, and the money for the services themselves (about 5,5000 rubles). The client has to pay the money and get a permit in the Federal Migration Office, nothing else! If agreed they pay money and sign a contract. A foreigner does not suspect they are being cheated; according to the contract, the firm only consults and does not bear responsibility for its activities. In addition, a document of rendering of services, that is “a consultation”, is inserted to the contract that the client is given to sign as well! But the client is not given a chance to study the contract, but they remain sure that in 2 or 3 weeks they would be called and to collect the documents.

After the contract is signed, the company forgets about its clients, and migrants try to contact the office themselves, often after they have visited the Federal Migration Service where it turns out that the documents for their work permit were not even submitted. The manager of Zakonnoye pravo marks time every day promising to sort out the situation. After 30 to 40 days, the clients learn that they have to complete the medical tests on their own, which requires a letter of referral from the company. However, the completed medical tests do not guarantee that Zakonnoye pravo will submit their clients’ documents to the FMS. A long period of promises and false hope starts. After all, tired with futile visits to the FMS and fed up with the excuses of the manager, a migrant asks for a refund of the money paid, but there is a surprise in store for them: it turns out that the mediators are responsible for the delay, and the company is not responsible for them. Nevertheless, the company does not deny neither the legalization of their migrant status, nor the return of their money. According to the manager, it will be done in 14 days after an application of refusal of the services is signed. The migrant turns out to be in a very complicated situation; all of the money is paid to “lawyers”, the registration is about to expire, and there is no hope for legalization. Inostranets then offers to a cheated and robbed client to obtain a new migration card as the current one has expired!

So the migrants “cooperating” with Zakonnoye pravo and being provided its “legal assistance” become “lawbreakers” – illegal workers violating the migration regime. After these trials and sufferings, without any money or hope for  legal employment, they cannot appeal to the law as they cannot even walk in the city without fearing everything. Their wives and children are waiting for remittances from them that would help them to keep going. Unfortunately, Zakonnoye pravo and its workers do not care about morality and they are not afraid of litigation because they can provide “legal assistance” to themselves, and produce a contract on the rendering of services, confirming they are free of any responsibility. This is their own “legal” right to make people poor and deprived of any rights.

For two months our workers have negotiated with the companies to meet the director and the lawyers of the company. But instead of the representatives of administration the people said to be workers of the company named “Advocacy of business” visited the office of the ADC Memorial and stated that their task is to monitor in St Petersburg the managers of the juridical offices like Inostranets. Unfortunately, intervention of such people who promised “to resolve the problem in 2-3 days” did not give any results. And the refund of the money paid by the clients of Zakonnoye pravo is not even mentioned.

The ADC Memorial continues to provide juridicial and social support to the victims of the lawlessness of Zakonnoye pravo and hopes that the violations of the rights of the migrant workers does not pass without legal resolution.

Asking for the mediatory work of “legal agencies”, a migrant worker risks to become a victim of cheating. But what would happen if they would follow the law? What would happen if they directly petition the Federal Migration Service, prepare and submit all document by themselves, complete all medical tests on their own? Unfortunately in this case a migrant worker is forced to ask for services from the mediators to avoid a gigantic line of 2-3 thousand people  inside of the FMS building where they would be sent to the workers of the “commercial department” containing medical center. The mediator companies are located in the FMS of St Petersburg building at 15 Krasnye Tekstilschiki and offer to submit documents with “more comfortable conditions” for a fee.

There are special lines to complete the medical tests organized by the mediator companies and organizations. The letters of referral are handed only to the representatives of certain firms or individuals. Ella Tereschenko, a worker of the ADC Memorial, attended with Sanzhar T., a citizen of Uzbekistan, willing to get such a letter. This is what she saw:

“We came to an officer sitting behind a glass screen and said that we would like to get a referral for Sanzhar T. The officer said that referrals are taken by representatives of a firm and are not handed usually. She then asked which firm gave a referral to Sanzhar. I said “Inostrantes.” “We don’t work with this one,” she responded. After a while she asked if we were “from Mazayeva?” Then she called Mazayeva and asked if she could give a referral to a person willing to submit by themselves. After she got positive answer, she printed the referral, filled it in and gave it to us”.

The experience of the ADC Memorial witnesses that  in the current conditions migrants have to ask for half-legal assistance of juridical companies and other “mediators”. In fact, it is impossible to complete the medical tests or submit documents by yourself. That is why thousands of people annually coming to Russia to work have to ask legal companies for assistance. The only guarantee to get a legal status is the “word of honor” of the cheaters.

What should a migrant cheated by “legal representatives” do? Staying in a foreign country illegally without any money, they have to seek job, as this is the aim of their visit to Russia. Without valid registration and work permit they cannot sign a fair work contract, i.e. legally get a job. In such a condition, the worker is forced to ask numerous “foremen” organizing illegal work of migrants. Such “specialists” usually cooperate with construction and transport companies, trade chains, industrial and agricultural enterprises, etc. After they agree with workers on the conditions of work, such mediators negotiate with employees on mutually profitable conditions. A company gets slaves who have to complete some work and then they are paid by the mediator depending on what they feel like. Such “outsourcing” is very profitable for employees. They are free of any social obligations, and taxes. They do not have to keep safety measures and also save on wages. Mediators might not pay at all. It all depends on their personal moral guidelines.

Such organization of illegal work reminds one of slave trade.  Here is the advertisement of outsourcing on the Internet (www.belowtheline.ru): “Let us replace two idle workers for one of our hard working and modest Tajik men! He will do the same work for less money. He will not shirk his work, or insist on his rights. If you need one thousand workers for a difficult time schedule, it is not a problem at all. You will get them in a week! If you do not like some of them (for instance, they have long hair), we will change them out in a day. Just ask us. This is not complicated and will take only two or three days. In one week you will save up to 35% in wages!” Mikhail Maksakov, a “director of field marketing division”, has confirmed by email, that he supplies “living work” of any amount and for any work, and his “outsourcing company” is prospering.

Even representatives of the Church use the free work of migrants. Zokiriya, a foreman of migrant-workers from Uzbekistan, approached the ADC Memorial and said that they worked in summer-autumn 2009 for four months for a Orthodox priest, a dean of the church in the village of Issad (in the Volkhov district, of the Leningrad region). The mediator was Artyom (usually the mediators do not use their surnames with migrants). Foreign workers did soil drainage, restored the church, built a summerhouse for the employee, and worked at the cemetery – “replacing the remains from the cemetery, freeing the place for construction.” An oral contract was made between the priest and the mediator Artyom, who promised to pay for each hour. But in the end he underpaid 100,000 rubles to the workers. The church benefitted: the work was done, and the priest told the migrants that he was not responsible for money.

It should be emphasized that the law enforcement agencies fight against use of illegal labor from time to time. Unfortunately, this fight takes the form of anti-migrant raids, followed by extortions, racist insults and beating the migrants. As Tatyana, a resident of the town of Pushkin, told Memorial she witnessed such a police raid. Tatyana talked to the workers of the plant in Pushkin – citizens of Uzbekistan and Moldova. Illegal migrants lived in the plant’s shops and were afraid to go outside. Tatyana bought food for them in the evenings. In January 2010, workers of the Federal Migration Service “came to check the documents, swore a lot, grabbed the people, beat them and insulted them. One of the workers was beaten up. I was asked to show my documents as well. They refused to show their documents. All of the people were gathered together, asked for 2,000 rubles and put in the car. All of them were brought to the court in Pushkin and asked for money again. Some of them paid off the officers, the others were kept for two days.”

Such raids are organized regularly, once or twice a week. The last raid took place on the 10th of March, as Tatyana said. The workers of the Federal Migration Service asked the migrants “to get out of there, otherwise they will be sorry.” After that most migrants left the plant.

The law enforcement agencies of Pushkin should be congratulated: another “Illegal migrant” operation was organized successfully, “the law has triumphed, and order has been restored.”

Cheated by “legal agencies”, employees and mediators, “illegal workers” do not hope to be protected by law. Fear of police brutality traditional in our country forces the migrants underground. An encounter with police can take the last of their money (sometimes migrants spend up to half of their wages to bribe police) and documents which are very difficult to restore. Moreover, they can refuse to deport them in the case of arrest.

Oibek K., a citizen of Uzbekistan, arrived in St Petersburg 8 years ago. One year later he became an “illegal worker”. He worked in Vyborg. In the summer of 2004, Oibek was stopped by a policeman in the train. The policeman found him in violation of migration regime. Oibek was fined and  his passport taken from him in ransom of the fine. In two weeks the fine was paid, but at the police station Oibek was told that his passport was lost.

Oibek continued to work in Vyborg. In 2007 with the help of his brothers and countrymen he managed to get a certificate to return to his home country from the consulate general of Uzbekistan in Moscow. However, he did not manage to leave Russia within a month, and the certificate expired.

In September, 2008 Oibek was arrested and put in a temporary holding facility on  Zakharyveskaya street. He spent a year there waiting to be deported. But then he was set free. The workers of the facility did not manage to confirm his identity and citizenship, so they sent him back on the streets. Later, it turned out that his identity was not confirmed because of the misspelling his patronymic.

Since 5 April, 2010 Oibek is in the has been in the temporary holding facility. Though his friends and relatives are ready to pay his tickets with their own money, nobody knows what kind of misspelling or mistake the inspectors of the center will make this time.

According to surveys (the Moscow research program on migration, 2001-2002) illegal traffic of many deprived of rights, support the economic system of Russia in terms of ineffective migration law. In the Russian Federation unofficial relations in the sphere of migrant labor have become massive. As analysts write, “it means that employees get used to working illegally. They are valued for their flexibility, cheap labor, absence of social expenses and taxes. Economically, such a “habit” means that not just any worker is hired, but a certain demand for migrants is created”.

All this means that every day, numerous violations of basic human rights by legal agencies, mediators, employees and state officers are not just normal but a natural condition of the sustainable development of the Russian economy based, in fact, on slave trade. The victims of Russian migration policy are called lawbreakers, guilty in their own lawlessness. Meanwhile, the system based on legal law of mediators and employees to cheat millions of people, to use forced labor, rob them and make them slaves is in no danger. In our country not everyone, but only legal people have rights.

Andrei Yakimov

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