Currently foreigners are not required to pass any Russian language tests unless they apply for employment in the housing and utilities, trade and services sectors or for Russian citizenship (under the standard procedure).

From 2015 foreigners wishing to work or reside in Russia will need to prove their command of the Russian language, Russian history and fundamentals of Russian law (the “Russian Language and Civilisation”). Distinct rules will apply depending on whether a foreigner is from a non-visa or visa regime country and will start having a practical effect at different moments in time.

These rules are introduced by Federal Law No. 74-FZ dated 20 April 2014 “On Amending Federal Law “On Legal Status of Foreign Nationals in the Russian Federation” (the “Law”). 

Who will be caught by the Law?

on-visa foreigners applying for a work permit, a patent (permit to work for an individual) or a temporary or permanent residence permit will need to add to the permit application they submit from 1 January 2015 proof of their command of the Russian Language and Civilisation. Non-visa countries concerned are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan (but not Kazakhstan and Belarus as they have secured a beneficial mutual migration regime for their citizens living and working in Russia).

Foreigners subject to a visa regime will be given more time to prove they meet the Russian Language and Civilisation requirements. Proof must be submitted to the authorities within 30 days from the issuance of the relevant permit (rather than upon application). If they fail to do so, their permits will be cancelled. 

All foreigners who obtained their permanent residence and work permits before 1 January 2015 will only be required to prove the Russian Language and Civilisation requirements when applying to renew these permits.

Highly qualified specialists and their relatives will not need to satisfy the Russian Language and Civilisation requirements. The Law provides for additional exemptions, such as full-time foreign students with accredited educational institutions in Russia.

What constitutes proof of command of the Russian Language and Civilisation? To prove their command of the Russian Language and Civilisation, applicants may submit either of the following documents:

  • a national certificate of education (basic general education or higher) issued prior to 1 September 1991 by an educational institution of the former USSR;
  • a certificate of education and/or qualification issued on or after 1 September 1991 to those who successfully passed the final state examination in Russia; or
  • a certificate confirming a command of the Russian Language and Civilisation (a “Dedicated Certificate”).

Dedicated Certificates will only be issued by those educational institutions in Russia or abroad which are to be included on the list of institutions specifically certified to that end. Dedicated Certificates will be valid for five years.

The procedure for obtaining Dedicated Certificates has yet to be developed and is expected to be finalised by September 2014.

Practical comments

HR Departments of Russian companies, as well as branches and representation offices of foreign companies in Russia, will need to determine who needs to take the test for a Dedicated Certificate, who does not and who needs to follow specific preparation courses. They will need to monitor the developments in relation to the accredited institutions and the extent of the knowledge required for employees to obtain a Dedicated Certificate, plan for the preparation of the employees concerned and follow up on the submission of Dedicated Certificates to the authorities in due course.