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  • Tatiana Krivosheeva

Is there a difference between USSR practices and EU immigration laws?



If you're reading this in English, you might not be familiar with the soviet term "propiska." The actual word means "inscription," but in the Soviet system, it was a permit to reside at a specific address. Born in the Soviet Union, I, of course, have heard of "propiska," but before starting to write this post even I was not aware of the astonishing details. So astonishing that I decided to change the main point I wanted to illustrate in this post. 

"Propiska" (which for ease of reading will be called "residence permit") regulations that were effective in the USSR look obsolete and arduous even for current authoritarian Russia. Hence, many of them ought to be quoted and explained. Below are the points of the soviet law regarding residence permits in Moscow. Passed in 1964[1] and abolished only in 1991 when many provisions were found to be unconstitutional and contradicting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


  • All state bodies, organizations and other types of entities are forbidden[2]:

  1. to employ in Moscow any people residing in other locations;

  2. to keep at work in Moscow young specialists graduating from Moscow universities;


  • Calling people residing in other locations to Moscow for enhancing their qualification, skill improvement shall be allowed only subject to permission of authorities.


  • Notaries are prohibited from executing sales-purchase and gift agreements for housing spaces without the consent of authorities.


  • People arriving in the city of Moscow from other locations for a period over 3 days are obliged to provide their passports for the "residence permit" within 1 day.


  • Temporal "residence permit" is allowed for people arriving for studies – for the academic season only, for business – for the term of the business trip, for medical purposes – for the duration of medical treatment, for a visit – for the term not exceeding 45 days.


  • People with a "residence permit" in Moscow are obliged to reside at the place indicated in the permit.


  • Those who are refused a "residence permit" are obliged to leave Moscow within 7 days and, in some cases – within 3 days.


  • People sentenced to imprisonment [for a substantial number of crimes] shall not be allowed to get a "residence permit" in Moscow.

At first sight, these rules seem outrageous, discriminatory, intolerable, and impossible in the modern democratic world. But only at first sight. Try to substitute Moscow with any EU country and non-Moscow residents with any non-EU citizens and you will see that the current situation is almost identical:


  • it is tough for an EU company to employ anyone from outside of its country, respectively, it is challenging for people with necessary qualifications but born in other countries to get a job in the EU;

  • graduating from an EU university in most countries does not make it any easier for the holder of a "wrong" passport to get a job at his or her place of study;

  • non-citizens cannot purchase real estate in some of the European countries without special permission of authorities;

  • studying or doing business triggers only temporal right to stay in the EU

Just like many soviet people were deprived of the right to work and live in Moscow, the same way holders of "unlucky" passports are treated as second-class people for the only reason of being born in the wrong country.

The Soviet Union collapsed at the beginning of the '90s. Those who lived back then might remember how overwhelmed we were with the new order, open borders, crush of the Berlin Wall, and great hope for the free future. 30 years passed, but such derogatory and humiliating practices that seem loaned from the "Evil Empire" [3] are still in place. Isn't it time to leave them behind?


[1] Resolution of Soviet Ministers of USSR dated 25.06.1964 N 585.

[2] The resolution prohibits employment to ministers, authorities, enterprises, and institutions. But considering that there were no private corporations in USSR, this provision applied to all potential employees.

[3] USSR, as referred to in U.S. President Ronald Reagan in his speech delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983.

© 2020 by Freedom of Movement Project

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