Russian Ministry of Interior proposes draconian fines for immigration violations

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it currently works on proposed amendments to Article 4.1 (“General Rules for Assignment of Administrative Penalties”) of the Code of Administrative Offenses, which gives the judges the opportunity to impose softer administrative penalties in cases for which sanctions can be considered excessively harsh. Although the amendments will change the general rules for the imposition of punishment, first of all they will concern Article 18.8 of the Code, which provides for punishment for violation of the rules of stay of foreigners in the Russian Federation.

The proposed amendments deal with the issue of possible non-application of compulsory deportation and the application of fines instead, following a comprehensive examination of the particular case if expulsion of a foreigner is considered to be an excessive punishment. Currently the judges formally have the opportunity to choose between applying a “fine with or without expulsion from the country” only for certain violations of the immigration regulations (for example, Articles 18.8.1 and 18.8.2, which deal with violation of the rules of entry, inadequacy of the purpose of entry and which courts refer to relatively infrequently). Presently fines ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 rubles are being charged for this violation, and in four regions, including the Moscow city, Moscow Region, St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, fines are higher than that (5,000-7,000 rubles). In case of a repeated violation of Articles 18.8.1 and 18.8.2, compulsory expulsion from the country together with fines (5,000-7,000 rubles for most of Russia or 7,000-10,000 rubles in the above mentioned four regions) are being applied. However, more often migrants are charged with violation of articles for which compulsory expulsion from the country with a fine is immediately required. Among the most frequently used articles of the Code of Administrative Offences there are Article (staying in the Russian Federation with ”improper” documents) and 18.10.2/18.10.3 (“illegal labor activity”). For these violations fines are also higher (5,000-7,000 rubles in the above mentioned four regions compared to 2,000-5,000 in the rest of the country).

At first glance, the proposed amendments mitigate the punishment for violation of immigration regulations, as a fine would seem to be better than expulsion from the country, while mitigation will affect any violations of the Code of Administrative Offenses. However, the proposed amount of penalties increases to as much as 40,000-50,000 rubles. Perhaps for some atypical cases, when, for example, some highly paid foreign professional accidentally delays the extension of his residence permit, such a punishment looks humane and appropriate, but for millions of labor migrants who constantly risk being brought to court for violations of immigration regulations, such fines are completely unaffordable, and thus many migrants would probably prefer to be expelled rather than fined.

The proposed bill was reportedly developed based on the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation (No. 5-P dated February 17, 2016) on the case of a Moldovan citizen who had a residence permit in the Russian Federation, but who was deported to his homeland for not notifying the immigration authorities of his stay in the Russian Federation. The forthcoming football World Cup also probably served as an additional impetus to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the proposed amendments, as the draft also deals with Article 20.31 (violations by spectators of the rules of visiting sportive events), where foreign violators were previously to be fined and expelled, but the new amendment imposes only higher fines of 40,000-50,000 thousand rubles in case expulsion is considered an excessive punishment.

Thus the already troubled life of the majority of migrant workers will become ever more complicated with the introduction of proposed amendments: there is little hope of a sudden humanization of the practices of the Russian courts, which currently massively stamp their decisions on fines and deportations without taking into account the specific circumstances of each migrant’s case, even if formally they can do without deportation. One can imagine how the amendments will affect an ordinary migrant who is accused of violating the immigration regime: he or she will either ask the court to expel him or her from the country, thus destroying his or her life plans, or get into debt in order to pay a huge fine. But it is more likely that he or she will get into the web of the corrupt system in order to avoid being brought before the judges.