Josh Wilson has been professionally involved with study abroad and Russia's market for English teachers for more than four years as the assistant director of The School of Russian and Asian Studies and in running the in-company English language courses for Alinga Consulting Group. He has long followed both markets with interest.
Russia's New Visa Regulations
and Study Abroad
By Josh Wilson
Russia has recently passed sweeping reforms to its visa regulations which may unexpectedly have positive effects on Russia's educational markets, creating not only more opportunity for students to study abroad, but more opportunity for these students to earn money while abroad to offset the cost of this study.
Russia, like nearly all countries, has long offered both commercial (деловая) visas and work (рабочая) visas. This arrangement allows countries to encourage foreign investment by providing relatively "cheap-and-easy" commercial visas for foreign businessmen to enter the country to conduct negotiations or inspect prospective or active investments. At the same time, it also allows countries to protect their domestic labor markets and improve taxation by providing more regulated (and usually much more expensive) work visas that allow foreigners to live and work within that country's borders.
Many foreigners, however, have long worked and lived in Russia on the basis of commercial visas. Lax regulations, a range of loopholes, and the fact that the practice was wide-spread and largely accepted by the authorities led many companies to employ workers on the basis of the much-cheaper commercial visa, rather than go through the relatively complicated and expensive process of applying for eligibility for work visas. Many freelancers, in a range of industries from English teaching to marketing, have also been working in Russia with these visas.
As of October 4th, 2007, however, visa regulations have become much stricter. Foreigners with commercial visas will be allowed to stay in Russia a total of 90 days out of every 180. This restriction will leave plenty of time to conduct negotiations, but will make holding a regular job in Russia next to impossible.
Moscow State University is one
of Russia's most popular study
abroad destinations. It may also
becoming a recruiting ground
for English teachers in Russia.
Furthermore, those who have not received a year-long multiple entry commercial visa before will need to settle for a one-to-three-month, single-or-double-entry commercial visa. To renew commercial visas, foreigners will, with a few exceptions, need to return to their native countries and apply at the Russian consulate there. This will be an especially pricey requirement for Americans.
These new rules will obviously have a negative effect on the number of foreigners living in Russia. They will have an especially strong impact on Russia's education industry, where "native speakers," (aka foreigners), are highly prized for their ability to teach and explain modern slang and jargon and provide conversational practice. As Russia's economy becomes increasingly international, this educational industry has been rapidly growing. The Moscow Business Telephone Guide lists 86 language schools in Moscow alone, which does not count many less-specialized schools which offer language instruction within the context of other programs. The popular website MRepetitor.ru lists 1758 freelance English teachers, but as the site is entirely in Russian, and nearly 100% of the names listed there are Russian, we can safely assume that this number does not include the often-preferred native speakers who are also teaching.
Those native speakers who advertise on Russia's English-language web forums like RedTape.ru and Expat.ru easily command rates of 25-35 USD per academic hour (generally equal to 45 minutes). Those working for schools report earning between 12-35 USD per hour, but often have the added benefit of not having to travel between classes. Many of these teachers hold no teaching certificate; far more important in determining the worth of a teacher is whether they hold education or experience in specific work environments that would give them the ability to explain specific business and legal terminology. One teacher, who held Canadian certifications as a stockbroker, financial planner, and insurance salesman, reported earning between 35-75 USD per academic hour even though his knowledge of grammar, he reported in confidence, was poor.
Although no official statistics exist on the unofficial practice of teaching English in Russia on the basis of a business visa, we can assume from discussions on these sites that 25-50% of native speakers working in this market will likely vanish within the next two months, driving prices even higher as supply drastically drops.
The market will likely compensate for this in three ways. First, recruitment from Russia's large foreign student population is likely to increase. Teachers are allowed to legally work on the basis of student visas, which also allow their holders to legally reside in Russia indefinitely, so long as they are attending classes. The increased market value for language teachers will also likely help attract these students into the workplace by allowing for higher wages – especially for freelance teaching.
Second, schools registered with the Russian government, which are able to request student visas, are likely to tap this ability to offer budget internship courses to fill positions vacated due to the new regulations. Thus, schools can recruit teachers from abroad, bring them to Russia on the basis of a student visa, and have them teach while they attend courses at that school. This will also likely have the effect of broadening the number of institutions offering study abroad courses in Russia, as well as potentially reducing the programs' end cost to students. The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS), for instance, has long offered a work study program that offers students the ability to teach at a partner company, Alinga Consulting Group. SRAS, however, does not offer English courses itself.
Third, more schools are likely to start offering work visas to teachers. The cost involved in doing this will likely mean that schools will need to raise their rates and will likely need to require teachers to commit to at least one year. Many larger schools, such as English First and Globus International have long hired teachers and issued work visas. However, these schools have also traditionally relied on a fairly large work force holding commercial visas as well, particularly for their profitable in-company programs, where teachers are sent directly to other company's offices to teach. They will need to find other ways of filling these crucial positions now.
The new regulations should thus have the effect of increasing competition among Moscow's schools, favoring those that are well-established and well-capitalized. Hopefully, it will mean that some of Moscow's shadier schools, which have in the past been numerous and ill-run, famous for paying teachers late or not paying teachers at all, will find their usual reservoir of teacher-victims harder to find and harder to recruit.
In short, while the new visa regulations will likely be highly disruptive to Moscow's large foreigner population in the short term, it will likely have generally positive effects on its market for study abroad and for employment opportunities for students aboad, while allowing Russia to better regulate its taxation and domestic job market.
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