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Belarus to relax work visa requirements for tech staff

Perhaps Belarus will turn into a large IT country in the near future, at least in the Eastern European region. Belarus is now actively discussing a new draft decree on Hi-Tech Park (HTP), or the Digitalization Decree, as it's known. The document, among other things, talks about unmanned vehicles, crypto-currencies, blockchain and start-ups.

It is planned, among other things, that the decree will simplify the procedure for obtaining foreign residence permits in Belarus by foreign tech specialists, and also introduce long-term start-up visas. Let's figure out what is likely to change.

How can you get work permit in Belarus now, in 2017?

The visa regulations of the Republic of Belarus provide for the following types of visas:

- for entry (issued abroad by diplomatic missions and consular offices, border service bodies of the Republic of Belarus);

- for departure, for exit and entry (issued in Belarus by citizenship and migration units at the place of temporary residence or temporary residence of a foreigner in the Republic of Belarus).

Entry visa, whether single, double or multiple entry visa, entitles you to enter, stay and leave Belarus during the period specified in the visa and for the specified number of days of stay, but not more than 90 days during one calendar year from the date of the first entry into the Republic Belarus.

What does it mean? If a foreigner (for example, a foreign founder of a Belarusian company) does not need to physically stay in Belarus for more than 90 days a year, then it may be enough for them to get only an entry visa to conduct business in Belarus. In this situation, from the date of the first entry into Belarus, they will have the status of a foreigner temporarily staying in the Republic of Belarus and must register with the registration authorities at the place of the actual temporary stay (within the first five days).

From February 2017, tourists from 80 countries, including from the entire EU, USA and Japan, may actually stay in Belarus without visas and any registration for five days.

However, if 90 days are not enough and a foreigner must stay in Belarus for a longer period, they get the status of "foreigners temporarily residing in the Republic of Belarus" and must obtain a temporary residence permit for a period of not more than one year with the possibility of a subsequent extension.

The grounds for issuing such a permit are established by the Law of the Republic of Belarus No. 105-З of January 4, 2010 "On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus".

In practice, it turns out that out of all the grounds for obtaining a temporary residence permit (which include education in Belarus, possession of a dwelling in Belarus, granting refugee status or asylum, etc.), a foreign specialist, including in IT, who is not the founder of a Belarusian company, can apply for a permit only for one reason: arrival in the Republic of Belarus for employment under employment contracts.

Everything seems quite simple: you conclude an employment contract with a Belarusian employer and a residence permit is guaranteed.

But in fact, in order for a Belarusian employer to conclude an employment contract with a foreign specialist, a special permit must be obtained in advance for the right to engage in labor activity in the Republic of Belarus for this particular foreigner.

This procedure takes an average of 5 weeks and consists of several stages.

After obtaining permission to work with a foreigner, an employment contract is concluded, which is subject to mandatory registration by an authorized state body. And only after that can a foreigner apply for a temporary residence permit and a multiple exit-entry visa.

If a foreigner is a founder of a Belarusian legal entity, this is also a sufficient basis for obtaining a temporary residence permit. But in this case, the main problem foreigners face is that when applying for a permit, it is necessary to provide quite a large number of documents confirming that the Belarusian organization does carry out these activities. In addition to the constituent documents, the Belarusian authorities usually request information from tax authorities and require staff schedules, business contracts, confirmations that the company carries out its main activity, announced at registration. Other documents may be requested too.

Finally, a residence permit. This is a document that confirms the foreigner's right to permanent residence in the Republic of Belarus.

If a foreigner is connected with Belarus by exclusively business relations, they can obtain a residence permit on one of the following grounds:

- a foreigner has lived in the Republic of Belarus for the last 7 years continuously after receiving a temporary residence permit;

- a foreigner is an employee and specialist, whose services Belarusian organizations need;

- a foreigner has invested at least 150,000 euros.

How will the new Decree on Hi-Tech Park 2.0 help?

As practice shows, foreigners face difficulties in trying to obtain all necessary permits, and sometimes it forces them to return to their state of citizenship. Therefore, measures to simplify migration procedures are perceived positively, including by potential foreign investors, who are interested in simplicity of attracting foreign specialists and managers to their business in Belarus.

Moreover, Belarus plans to introduce start-up visas. Over the past few years, the use of such a tool has expanded: states seek to attract the best innovative projects by providing entrepreneurs and IT specialists in high-tech areas the opportunity to obtain long-term visas or residence permits under a simplified procedure on special terms.

Conditions for obtaining start-up visas vary considerably from country to country. For example, among the evaluation criteria are an idea, a business plan and the age of the startup; development strategy; the size of the startup share owned by the applicant for a visa; a certain amount of attracted investments; the number of jobs created and many others.

It is still unclear what regulations will apply to Belarusian start-up visas and how this tool will be correlated with other migration procedures and permits. It remains to be hoped that the Decree will stipulate international best practices.

Getting work permit in Belarus' tech companies may become easier