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RT’s investigation: Russian law leaves expats without basic belongings

Published time: October 21, 2010 01:25
Edited time: October 21, 2010 01:25

According to Russia’s new customs law, moving to the country can cost foreign specialists thousands of euros. RT has run a month-long investigation into new import duties.

Since moving to Russia five weeks ago, Amir Sharif has been living in an empty flat and sleeping on the floor. When it is meal time, he sits on the carpet, using his suitcase for a table.

“It’s like we are refugees, not professional immigrants,” Amir said.

Amir’s belongings are being held at customs: new import duties mean he has to pay thousands of euros to get them back, something he was only informed of after arriving in Russia.

Amir put off payment, hoping that the law would change, but his bill is only increasing at €1,000 a week for storage. Obviously, he can’t hold out any longer and must now fork out €20,000.

“The price is exorbitantly high,” Amir said. “Basically, it’s tantamount to buying your stuff again – it’s quite unreasonable.”

At the customs depot, shippings are building up fast. A queue of removal lorries prove other immigrants are living rough, too. Everything from Christmas decorations to bicycles have been sitting at the depot for over a month; the owners still hope something will change.

Since July 1, foreigners have been charged €4 per kilogram of luggage they bring in above the first 50 kilograms. Some objects are exempt, but heavy items like furniture and cars are taxed.

No one was warned of a new law. Ironically, the changes were introduced the same day migration laws were relaxed, welcoming foreign professionals to Russia.

“I’m absolutely convinced this is a misunderstanding, and we really hope it is,” Nadezhda Shkolkina, a member of the Civil Chamber, told RT. “It can’t be putting our country in a positive light. We should do everything possible to make foreigners come to live in Russia and share their technologies and intellect with us.”

The customs service is coming around to this view. The Ministry of Economic Development says Russia's customs procedures are among the least user-friendly in the world.

Top officials are concerned that lengthy delays at the border and expensive new import duties may put off potential investors.

“We’ll review the laws to simplify the procedure,” Dmitry Kotikov, a spokesperson for Federal Customs Service, told RT. “At the moment, we are working on an amendment to the agreement to expand the list of items exempt from charges. I can’t tell how long it will take because this issue is to be solved on the inter-state level.”

That means that Belarus and Kazakhstan and the other countries in this customs union must all agree to scrap the charges before expats can collect their belongings for free.