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Duma Looks to Give Foreign Teachers a Break

State Duma deputies will hear a bill in a key second reading later this month that would streamline the current process for employers to register foreign teachers.

Regulations put in place last year by the Federal Migration Service have made it extremely difficult for Russian universities and language schools to hire foreign teachers.

Since November, employers have had an additional administrative hoop to jump through: Language schools must request permission from the migration service to hire a certain number of foreign teachers and then receive permits allowing such hires.

But if the bill is passed, employers would be able to bypass regional employment services by sending hiring requests for foreign teachers directly to the Federal Migration Service, service spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin said.

Previously, foreign teachers working in Russia only needed work visas, which could be automatically extended if their employment contracts were renewed.

But the Federal Migration Service had to tighten regulations after the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a nationwide check when a Turkish extremist group called Nurdzhular was discovered in Tatarstan in May.

Members of the group had been teaching at schools in the area for more than 10 years. Alarm was raised when pupils started idealizing Turkey and decrying Russia, said Vyacheslav Sizov, head of the extremism watchdog at the Prosecutor General’s Office, RIA-Novosti reported.

As part of a series of measures created to prevent further extremist ideas from being spread by foreign teachers, the government sent a bill to the Duma excluding teachers from the list of foreigners who do not require work permits.

The first reading of the new bill was scheduled for last fall, but consideration was delayed because the bill “wasn't compatible with the democratic norms,” said Grigory Balykhin, a United Russia deputy who heads the State Duma's Education Committee.

After clarifications were added, deputies passed the bill in a first reading on Feb. 26, he said.

"The new version of the bill is aimed at putting things in order and supporting qualified foreign teaching staff. It also proposes that employers should provide accommodation for the foreign teachers they hire," Balykhin told The Moscow Times.

The bill also stipulates that language schools will not have to report the number of teachers they want to hire, a requirement in line with the country’s work permit quotas for foreigners.

"Language schools will have to file a request explaining that they want to hire native speakers to improve the quality of the educational process. Based on this request, we'll give work permits and work visas," said Poltoranin, of the Federal Migration Service, adding that the whole procedure would take a month.

Even if the bill is passed, language schools would still have to prove that there are no qualified Russian candidates who could fill the positions, Balykhin said.

But while the Duma is considering the bill, Moscow language schools say they can neither employ new foreign teachers nor prolong work visas for those whose contracts will expire soon.

"The Federal Migration Service has stopped the procedure of giving out and extending work visas to foreign teachers, saying the interpretation of the existing law has changed," said Anastasia Pokhilko, an HR director at BKC-International House. "Foreign teachers can't extend their work visas and have to leave the country once they expire. Some of the foreign teachers working at our school have already left."

"Language schools will have to request permission to hire a certain number of foreign teachers before the State Duma passes the bill,” Poltoranin said.

But the situation is getting even more complicated since language schools have missed the deadline for reporting the number of foreign teachers they intend to hire.

To hire teachers in 2010, schools should have reported these figures to the Federal Migration Service between January and May last year.

Yelena Yuzhina, human resources director at Big Ben, a company operating a number of language schools throughout Moscow, said that last year, her company only hired foreigners as consultants, not teachers.

“But when we decided to hire native speakers to teach at our school, we found out that the old scheme — when it was enough to obtain work visas for them — didn't work anymore," Yuzhina said.

To report the number of foreign teachers they plan to hire, language schools say they have to get approval from the Moscow Labor and Employment Department’s joint commission, which meets twice a month and has the power to adjust the quotas for employers to hire foreign staff.

The city cut the quota for work permits this year by almost half to 1.94 million people, compared with 3.98 million people a year earlier, Yury Gertsy, head of the Federal Labor and Employment Service, said last month.

Such a significant drop was the result of the economic crisis and the country’s subsequent increased unemployment rate, he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev signed legislation today easing visa requirements for foreigners with Russian relatives, Interfax reported.

The new law states that heads of Russian diplomatic missions and consulates can give foreigners entry visas if their Russian relatives file a written application saying they will travel together within the country.

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