Visa Quotas

Underneath my recent post on the importance of managers earning the respect of their subordinates, several people suggested Rick should have been fired, or was at least a problem. Leaving aside whether or not this was the case, here’s why it would be difficult anyway.

If a company wants to employ foreigners in Russia, it must submit an application for a work visa quota early in the year before they need the work permits. From memory, the visa quota applications for 2008 were submitted to Moscow around February or March 2007. In the quota application a company had to list:

1. The job position.

2. The nationality of the person who would fill it.

You can imagine this presents a considerable headache for a company which has just won a major contract and needs to get a few dozen foreigners on the ground right away, followed by a few hundred later in the year increasing to a thousand next year. Half the problem is you don’t know what nationality will fill a lot of the key positions. You can reasonably assume your scaffolding crew will be Nepalese or Kazakh, or your cladding guys Indonesian, but who will be the project manager, construction manager, safety manager, etc? You don’t know, because you’ll not be recruiting until next year and you don’t know who will even apply for the job. So what companies do is they take a guess, and put 30 Brits, 10 Australians, 5 Canadians, 5 Dutch, etc. against a generic list of company and project positions. Then as you recruit, you just assign each successful candidate to one of those positions, regardless of his or her actual job (I think I was a geologist for a while in Nigeria, and something equally daft in Russia).

Until a company has its quota approved, nobody can apply for visas and the process is fraught with difficulties in every country I’ve worked in. It’s very common for people to be sat overseas with their mobilisation delayed due to “problems with the quota”. Visas are rarely rejected, it is the annual quota application that fouls things up. In the early days in Sakhalin, companies simply bypassed this by bringing everyone in on business visas, which are much easier to obtain and require no quota. Then the Russians got fed up with this and started imposing large fines on any company caught employing people on business visas rather than full work permits. By the time I arrived in 2006, company HR departments operated a gigantic bureaucracy, juggling multiple quota applications and visa applications in a never-ending cycle: as soon as one lot of visas had been renewed under one quota, the application for the next quota had to be prepared.

Even leaving aside the fact that finding experienced industrial insulation specialists with LNG experience in 2006-8 who were 1) available and 2) willing to go to Sakhalin was a nigh-on impossible task, the quota system meant replacing one expat with another was also very difficult. You would either have to replace the outgoing person with someone of the same nationality, or recruit someone of a nationality for whom you had a spare slot. Getting rid of a Canadian (say) and replacing them with a Brit simply wasn’t possible under the Russian quota system. Eventually, many companies turned to manpower agencies and let them take care of it all.