While India has resolved the issue of Russians working on business visas in defence and nuclear-related projects here, it has been unable to bring succour to several Indians in Russia whose work permits have not been extended.

The visas of Russian scientists and engineers working on projects of a strategic nature have been extended till December 31. They will also not have to go back to convert their business visas into work visas, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said after the completion of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow.

Russians not working on sensitive projects and holding business visas, however, have been asked to return and go through the process of obtaining work visas, she added.

However, the issue of Indians who have submitted their passports to the Russian authorities for extension of their work visas, some for a few months now, has not been worked out. “We are holding discussions at the consular level. We hope we can come to a satisfactory solution,” Ms. Rao said.

As the carrying of passports is mandatory in Russia, many Indians, some of them living there for over two decades, are being put to great difficulty. They venture out only a little distance from their homes and risk close questioning by the police if they are found without their passports, which have been deposited with the authorities.

“They don’t give any reason. They just say we cannot give it. On the other hand, I have seen Turkish and Chinese nationals being given back their passports along with work visas,” said an Indian living in Moscow with his family.

These Indians also cannot drive their cars as the renewal of the registration papers hinges on the visa extension.

Questioning at airports

In addition, all first-time Indian visitors to Russia are normally held at the airport for three hours for close questioning. One celebrated case was that of the head of a major Indian IT firm, which was planning to set up a centre in Siberia. After having been kept at the airport for an hour, he declined to enter Russia and took the next available flight to western Europe.

The problem arose after the Union Home Ministry, concerned over the practice of foreigners working here on business visas, a large number of them Chinese, decided to streamline the visa system without consulting other stakeholders. This claimed collateral damage in the form of up to 1,000 Russian scientists and engineers working in critical sectors such as defence undertakings and nuclear power plants.

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