Frequently Asked Questions About Russian Business Visa and Work Visa Options For U.S. Citizens Going to Russia

By George C. Maxwell and Scott Borene*

1. Do I (a US Citizen) need a Visa to Travel to Russia?

Yes, generally you do. The Russian government requires that US Citizens have a visa in the appropriate category in order to be permitted to enter Russia. Only citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) may travel to the Russian Federation without a visa. If you happen to also be a citizen of one of these listed states, you may not need a visa depending on the purpose of your trip. In addition visitors to Russia for an extended stay are generally required to register with the local police authorities in Russia.

2. What Are the Basic Visa Options for US Businesspersons Travelling to Russia?

Depending on the planned activities, a business visitor may need either a business visitor visa or a work permit and work visa. Work visa options generally require the US worker to be sponsored to work by a Russian entity (either a Russian legal entity or a branch representative or affiliate in Russia) in Russia.

In addition to these options, there may be other visa options depending on the specific facts of any particular case. We typically would work with appropriate Russian counsel to assist in identifying the best options based on the particular facts.

Due to political events, the requirements and options for travel to Russia for business may change.

3. What Are the Basic Activities Permitted on a Russian Business Visa?

A Russian business visa is appropriate when the individual wishes to travel to Russia for business or commercial activities if they will not receive compensation from a Russian source. A typical entry on a multi-entry business visa is for up to 90 days within a 180 day period although there may be circumstances where longer visits might be permitted.

A Russian business visa does not authorize a person to work in Russia. While there is a list of commonly acceptable activities using a business visa, there can be circumstances where a work permit and work visa are required even if the business visitor claims to be only coming to visit Russia to perform one of the commonly acceptable activities. Commonly acceptable activities on a Russian business visa include, but are not limited to, attending meetings, conferences, trade fairs, sales; negotiating and signing agreements; entering as a representative of a non-Russian company to install, service, remove or repair the non-Russian company’s products; examining goods to be purchased by a non-Russian company; purchasing goods for a non-Russian company; or delivering goods pursuant to a sales contract; and giving lectures at institutions of higher education (colleges and universities).

If the business visit (no matter the length of the stay) involves activities beyond these basic activities, the visitor may need a work permit and work visa. Also, if the visitor will generate profit for the Russian host entity and the visitor will receive compensation from the Russian host entity or take direction from the Russian host entity, a work permit may be required.

4. What are the Basic Requirements for a Russian Business Visa?

Russian Business Visitors must be sponsored by a Russian host organization meeting the specifications and requirements listed on the Russian Embassy website. The Russian Host organization may need to apply to the Foreign Migration Service (FMS) for an invitation letter. Once the invitation letter is obtained, the Business Visitor applicant submits it along with a visa application, passport with at least 6 months validity and two clean pages, picture and payment. The applicant may also be required to submit a bank statement, statement from the applicant’s employer regarding salary, proof of medical insurance, and documents proving ownership of US property.

Business visas can be issued as single or multiple entries and for periods of up to 3 years.

Also under some circumstances, it may be necessary to submit a health certificate indicating the results of an HIV test. The test must be no more than 3 months old. It is usually required where the applicant seeks to enter Russia for a period longer than 3 months in connection with a multi-entry business visa.

5. When would a Russian Employer pursue a Highly Qualified Specialist Work Visa?

The highly qualified specialist work visa is a streamlined work permit process for qualifying Russian employers for particular positions. The streamline comes from avoiding the employment permit and work permit components. The employer must be a Russian legal entity or an accredited Russian branch office of a foreign legal entity that has not violated the Russian rules and procedures for foreign employment for the two years prior to the application. The position must also be based on a labor or civil law agreement with the foreign national to pay a wage of at least 2 million rubles (approximately $60,000 to $65,000 US) and the foreigner must have work experience in the field.

6. When would a Russian Employer pursue an Ordinary Work Visa?

The typical work permit and work visa process involves multiple steps, including a declaration of need, employment permit application, work permit application, employer invitation application, and finally visa application. Typically, the Russian entity planning to hire a foreign national in the future would submit a declaration of need a year in advance listing the number of positions needed, unless an exception applies. A Russian employer then moves forward with an employment permit process application by informing Russian authorities of a vacancy 30 days prior to submitting an employment permit application. If the employment permit application is approved, FMS will issue a permit valid for up to one year which specifies the number of workers, types of occupations, and locations. After the employment permit is granted, the Russian employer may then apply for an individual work permit for the individual foreign worker.

If the work permit application is granted, a work permit valid for up to one year is issued. The work permit is valid only for employment at the sponsoring Russian entity and only in the geographic area where it is approved. There are limits on work outside of the particular geographic jurisdiction.

Once the work permit is issued, the employer then applies with FMS for an invitation for the foreign worker and the worker’s family members. The invitations once issued are then used by the foreign worker and the family members to apply for their visas.

Also under some circumstances, it may be necessary to submit a health certificate indicating the results of an HIV test. The test must be no more than 3 months old. It is usually required where the applicant seeks to enter Russia for a period longer than 3 months in connection with a multi-entry business visa.

7. How Long Is the Processing Time for a Work Visa?

Processing times change depending on a number of different factors, which change with time. According to Russian counsel in 2014, the highly qualified specialist work visa takes typically 4 weeks. According to Russian counsel in 2014, the ordinary work visa typically takes up to 4 months.

8. Who is on the visa team?

On Russian visa and immigration issues as with other non-US immigration matters, we work with appropriate immigration counsel in the country of destination who have the combination of experience and expertise best suited for the circumstances.


*George C. Maxwell is an Attorney with Borene Law Firm, P. A., a global immigration firm headquartered in Minnesota. He speaks both English and Russian and has studied Russian language at Moscow State Linguistics University and at Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia.  George Maxwell concentrates his immigration practice primarily on employment-related, investment, and business immigration matters. Mr. Maxwell speaks and writes frequently about immigration law topics. He is a past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association Immigration Section. He is currently Chair of the International Business Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association and Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter. In addition to his extensive experience in immigration law, he has significant experience in international human rights litigation, business litigation, corporate internal investigations, and white collar enforcement and compliance. His prior legal work has taken him to Russia, Central Asia, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Mr. Maxwell graduated with High Distinction from the University of Iowa Law School. He was a Note and Comment Editor for the Iowa Law School’s Transnational and Contemporary Problems Journal. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Northern Iowa, and upon graduation received the Purple and Old Gold Award for Meritorious Scholarship in Russian. Also in the summer of first year of law school he interned at the Russian law business law firm of Andrey Gorodissky & Partners in Moscow, Russia. He is also admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia, in Washington, DC. He can be reached at

Scott M. Borene is the Founder and Managing Attorney of Borene Law Firm, P. A. The immigration lawyers now with Borene Law Firm have more than 70 years of combined professional experience helping clients with U.S. and global visa and immigration projects. Scott Borene was selected by other lawyers as 2018 Lawyer of the Year in Immigration Law as noted by The Best Lawyers in America and Minnesota Monthly magazine. He has been repeatedly recognized as one of the Top 20 Lawyers in the World “most highly regarded by other lawyers” in corporate immigration law. He is listed in the Best Lawyers in America and acknowledged as an Immigration Law Super Lawyer. He is often called upon to act as an “expert’s expert” to advise other experienced immigration lawyers on complex immigration matters. Scott Borene is a past Director and a past Member of the Board of Governors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the world’s largest professional organization of immigration lawyers. In 2002, he was the founder and Conference Chair of AILA’s Global Immigration Summit in New York City, the world’s largest conference of global immigration lawyers. He has written many articles on immigration law and is a frequently invited expert speaker on immigration topics at AILA National Conferences and other major national and international legal conferences. He is the Editor-in-Chief of many leading professional reference books for immigration lawyers including The Global Immigration Guide: A Country-by-Country Survey and The Global Immigration Guide: Crossing Borders for Business, AILA’s most comprehensive books on Global Immigration. He served as Editor-in-Chief of Immigration Options for Academics and Researchers (2005), AILA’s leading Expert Occupational Handbook on immigration issues in higher education. He is the author of Dr. Yes – Some Practical Strategies for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Immigrant Visa Cases of Health Care Professionals. Scott Borene attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a National Merit Scholar. After graduation from Harvard, he attended William Mitchell Law School in Minnesota. Scott Borene has more than 30 years of experience helping employers obtain work visas for key international talent. Scott Borene can be reached at

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