Blog - Citizenship (2)

Added on Saturday, 2012-08-11 11:43 CEST in category Moscow
For a while now I've been preparing the documents for my naturalization application. One of the requirements is having been married to a Russian citizen for over three years. It was only two weeks ago that we celebrated our three year anniversary at a lovely hotel/castle in Germany (go us! :), and when we came back I once again went to immigration services to try and apply.

Try, indeed. Russian immigration services never make it easy for you, and although I had come by before to check my documents, I already expected more hassle. So I went there at 6:00 in the morning, three hours before opening time, to get in line.


About lines, by the way; Russians seem to love them. Check out the first McDonald's opening in Moscow. Nowadays it's not that bad anymore, of course, but people getting in line somewhere in the middle of the night is unfortunately still rather commonplace. When I got there, though, I found just one woman sitting on a bench. I expected more people, so I asked where they all were. "Oh, they're not here yet. You see, we have this list. On this list you put your name, and that way we can tell who's up next. You're now on number 146. It may take a few months before you get to hand in your documents, unfortunately, I myself have been here for about two, because they only process about 2-3 people a day. Oh, and every day before 18:00 you have to come back here to say you still want to be on the list. Otherwise we kick you off."… Hello, 2nd world country!

Quite flabbergasted I went to the head of the office, asking her if she thinks it's normal that people go here every day for months in order to hand in their documents. She denied there was such a list, and told me people will be accepted in a first-come, first-served order. If I would be so kind as to come back tomorrow, then she would take a look at my documents.


The next day I got there at around the same time, and hadn't moved a single spot on the dreaded list. Turns out that all the slots had already been taken by people who had made an appointment, which is apparently possible. There's a two hour time slot for that each week, during which (apparently) hundreds of people who want to apply try and get through, while only a few succeed. Those who don't will just have to come back again, and again, and again…


Oddly enough, this dreaded line was meant purely for applying. Going for consultation was quite easy, and soon I was indeed let in. I asked if the documents I had gathered were all in order, which of course they were not. They never are the first time.

Three months prior I had been to another inspector at their old address (they had moved since then), and was literally told that I should make a notarized translation of my university diploma and copies of my work contracts, "just in case". It seems a lot of civil servants don't know very well their country's laws, or they have their own interpretation of them, so "just in case" I gathered about every document I thought I could possibly need, and made copies of every single one of them.

This inspector didn't like that :) She started weeding through all my documents, and gave me back more than half of them. "Why did you spend so much time collecting all these documents, making copies, etc., all in vain?" - "Just in case" was not the right answer :P

I left with quite a few remarks. Some were logical, e.g. in one place the city of Amersfoort was translated as Амерсфорт, in another as Амерсфоорт (one versus two о's, though the pronunciation in Russian would be the same). Others were more nitpicky, e.g. "B.V." should've been converted to its Russian equivalent "ООО" (Russia's LLC), even though the name of the company literally includes this "B.V." There's no way you can know such things beforehand, so it's pretty much trial and error.

Handing it in

One week later I came back again, having corrected everything. The woman and her dreadful list had apparently disappeared, because after a few days of nobody moving up the list at all it became clear she hadn't been completely honest, to put it mildly :) And in fact, not 2-3 people a day were accepted, but on good days 10-20. There was still a list, a new one, with now only 40 people on it. And that's when luck struck, hard. One of the inspectors had fallen ill, and the list was split in two. One for applying for a residence permit (the lion's share), and one for citizenship, which consisted of only five people. The first one on this list had just happened to go outside for a smoke when the inspector started calling people in. The others on the list didn't want to go in, for they were behind him, even though he was out. So I, not the first on this list, but the first in the first-come, first-served line (as per the immigration office's rules), went in. I handed over all the documents, which were checked, double checked, and checked again, oh, and stamped, everything is always stamped!, after which my application was accepted! Hoorah! Within half a year my citizenship should've been granted, after which I can go to the local sort of "city hall" to request my Russian passport :)

Their side of the story

Seeing all this mess going on, with people getting in line in the middle of the night, lists with 150 people on them, and personnel that would rather have you just go away, it's easy to dismiss the immigration officers as indolent, unhelpful or even borderline evil in some cases. But in a rare moment during my application I got to hear their side of the story. The head of the office, who was taking my application, was called by her superior, who asked how things were going. "Not well", she answered. "I've got four people, two of them new. They can only accept the simplest of applications, and with these masses of people wanting to apply, there's simply no time to train them to take on other ones. Worse, one of them is ill, and another was supposed to go on vacation today. I asked him to please work this one last day, for the day after his colleague comes back from vacation. I cannot ask them to do even more overtime, because their work is starting to get sloppy, and they're close to a burnout. I already work weekends, but of them, earning a mere RUB15,000 a month (about € 380), I simply cannot ask that. So yeah, I just really need more people, in order to be able to properly take on everyone's applications."

Having heard all that puts things in quite a perspective. If this is the kind of atmosphere they have to work in, I'm surprised they manage to keep it up at all. I guess next time I should bring them a cake, to brighten up their day :)

Update 2012-08-10: I decided to be all sweet and actually make them a cake. As a response I got "I don't need your surprises, close the door!" So yeah, screw Russian immigration services…

P.S.: big, big thanks to my dear wife and mom-in-law for all the help during the application process!