Russian residents petition president for rethink on immigration law

Some of the hundreds of Russian citizens who have made Latvia their home to escape the Putin regime in their homeland are urging President Raimonds Vejonis to put the brakes on changes to the immigration law that would see them asked to pay thousands of euros to renew their residency permits, Russian-language channel LTV7 reported Monday. 

In order to renew their 5-year Latvian residence permits, Russian citizens (and others from non-EU countries) will have to pay a €5,000 fee  per family member. 

The new laws were passed by the Latvian parliament last week. 

Now a group of Russian citizens affected by the changes have written a letter to President Raimonds Vejonis arguing that they resettled in Latvia because of its freedoms, but now stand to be punished or possibly driven elsewhere if they cannot afford the new charges.

Among the signatories is Natalia Poberezhska, reports LSM's Russian language service, who said she chose Latvia for its democracy. She has sold an apartment in Russia in order to buy one in Riga, obtaining a so-called "investor visa" as a result. The new changes came as a nasty surprise, she said, particularly as the law is retrospective, affecting all who obtained residence permits from 2011.

"All of a sudden, I was suddenly informed that I would have to pay five thousand euros. Which I do not have. In my opinion, retroactive laws should not happen in democratic countries. I would like to understand why this is happening," said Poberezhska.   

The 23rd article of the law on residence permits is supplemented by a new paragraph which says applicants are obliged to make a payment of 5,000 euros to the state budget.

A deputy from the National Alliance, Karlis Kreslins not only supported the amendment, but said he might have issued his own family with a new household bill in the process.

"My wife is a Russian citizen, she has a temporary residence permit," said Kreslins.

Riga has become a magnet for members of the Russian intelligentsia, and particularly journalists working for independent Russian media such as Meduza and Spektr, both of which have earned the Kremlin's disfavor.

Denis Sergeyev is among a group of ten former Muscovites, who took up residence in Latvia and have signed the letter to the president of Latvia to return the amendment to the Saeima for revision rather than promulgating it into law.

"We really want to believe that the law will not be applied retroactively, as in all civilized Europe," said Sergeyev.

Journalist Leonid Ragozin has also harshly criticized the new law, saying that it specifically targets middle-class Russians and political dissidents while leaving the oligarchs and rich businessmen who have also benefitted from Latvia's residence permit scheme completely unaffected.

Ragozin makes his case against the new law in this blog post and recently appeared on Ukrainian news channel Hromadske (in English) to speak about it (below). The segment on Latvia starts 8 minutes in.

The changes in the law come into force on July 1 this year.

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