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The announcement of “Voluntary relocation to Russian Federation for our compatriots living abroad” forum caused some excitement among Sacramento residents. About 100 people gathered at the Living Stones church in Rancho Cordova on a Friday morning. Speakers from the Russian Consulate in San Francisco invited them to relocate to Buryatia, Kamchatka, or Arkhangelsk.

Forum participants were addressed by representatives of the Association of Slavic Immigrants USA, as well as diplomats from the Russian Consulate in San Francisco. Speakers from the Russian Consulate announced the federal assistance program for Russian repatriants living in America.

“Any Russian Federation citizen living abroad, a person who does not have Russian citizenship but has Russian cultural roots, who is an Orthodox Christian and speaks Russian can permanently relocate to the Russian Federation,” Vice Consul Alexey Dyutin told the forum guests.

Since 2006, when President Vladimir Putin signed the “voluntary” relocation program, only about 10 thousand people have moved to Russia. Besides, all of them came from the “near abroad”, namely former USSR republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Federal Migration Service pompously adds to those numbers the 60 thousand people who relocated from the war-stricken regions of Ukraine (as of mid-November 2014).

In an interview for Slavic Sacramento Alexey Dyutin claimed that “last year 50 US residents applied for relocation to Russia, 12 of them are in the process [of relocation], none of them has actually moved as of yet.”

Echoing the President’s message, the Consulate personnel are recruiting “foreign skilled workers living abroad and in the ‘near abroad’, as well as talented young people”.

According to Dyutin, participating in this program are the regions of Voronezh, Tula, Lipetsk, Kaluga, Kursk, Arkhangelsk, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Penza, Kurgan and Sverdlovsk, the republics of Buryatia and Mari El, and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

“A total of 19 regions of the Russian Federation participate [in the program],” explained the Vice Consul. “I must add that Moscow and Saint Petersburg are not participating.”

The speakers assured that “the costs of relocation, shipping (one 5-ton container for a family of three, or two 5-ton containers for a larger family), travel and customs will be paid by the regions”, but only after the actual arrival. One passenger car can also be brought in free of customs duty.

Who can take advantage of this program?

“Any person who is at least 18 years of age can repatriate,” says Deputy Consul General Andrey Varlamov, “although the regions are expecting work-capable population, so the maximum age is limited to 55 years. There is no limit for the number of participants from the same family.”

The program is also open to persons without citizenship who originally came from Russia or the USSR, as well as their descendants.

According to the rules set by the Russian government, those skilled workers who are migrating into “priority settlement areas” will receive a settling-in grant in the amount of 120K to 240K per applicant. In rubles, that is.

“It’s too bad”, commented one of the forum participants, talking about the miserable exchange rate for the ruble. But the representatives of the Consulate are not scared by the sharp decline of the Russian currency:

“In the worst case you can always trade your rubles for dollars,” says one of the diplomats.

Considering the recent drop of the ruble exchange rates, we can only guess whether his words were serious or should be taken as a not-so-funny joke.

“Priority settlement areas” include Buryatia, Zabaykalsky Krai, Kamchatka Krai, Primorsky Krai, Khabarovsk Kray; the regions of Amur, Irkutsk, Magadan and Sakhalin; and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

If you live in sunny California you should think twice before taking advantage of this program – the warmest region you can choose is Volgograd where the average winter temperature is about 20°F (-6.5°C).

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Where to apply?

Applications or questions can be e-mailed to the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco.

The Kremlin recruiters add that you can change your mind and return to your original country within two months. According to one of the forum speakers, you can quit the program anytime on the condition of paying back the costs of your expatriation.

For those who do not have a place to live in Russia, the regions are supposedly promising to provide temporary living accommodations. But you better be sure that you are needed in the region you are relocating to.

What kinds of professionals are in demand in Russia?

“Professionals with college degrees, workers of uncommon occupations, mostly engineers,” answers Vice Consul Dyutin.

So if you are a construction worker or a night watchman, you should stop and think whether the homeland really needs your services.

Escaping from the past?

A Diaspora journalist asked whether crimes commited by prospective repatriants in the US will be taken into account. Some of them will be, but not all, answered the diplomat.

“The most important thing is that the person meets the criteria set by the Russian Federation,” says Dyutin. “The question of past legal problems is not addressed [in the program].”

But the diplomat assured us that a fugitive from justice who committed a serious crime in the US would most likely be unable to qualify.

What will you need to relocate?

In order to apply for the relocation you need to present to the Consular Section the following documents: “a valid internal passport of the Russian Federation, an application (the form can be printed or filled out online at the Consular Section website), and two 3.5cm by 4.5cm photographs against a light background.”

By the way, the link to the Consular Section on the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs website was not working at the time this article was written. Let’s hope that this little hitch will not discourage our compatriots and the relocation program will justify the trust of Russian-speaking Americans.

What to do if you have dual citizenship?

Those who have dual citizenship (for instance, American and Russian) should not be scared – Vladimir Putin’s citizenship restrictions only apply to the dishonest government employees who refuse to serve their Motherland and try to “sit on two chairs” instead.

Who’s going?

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Vladimir is an Ukrainian citizen. He left Crimea at the time it belonged to Ukraine. After spending some time in the United States and learning about Crimea becoming a Russian territory, Vladimir considered returning to his homeland.

“My daughter moved to Crimea recently and she is having big problems because she is a citizen of Ukraine,” says Vladimir from Sacramento. “What should we do now that Crimea is a part of Russia?”

Deputy Consul General Andrey Varlamov advises anyone in a similar situation to e-mail him directly.

“I will answer everyone’s questions within a week,” the diplomat assured the audience.

Nikolay Kushnaryov, a minister in the Living Stones church, arrived to Sacramento from Russia, and before that from Tajikistan. The Kushnaryov family was granted a refugee status in the US “due to growing nationalist tensions in the ‘roaring 90s’ “

“When we moved to Russia from Tajikistan, we were concerned about nationalist prejudice against our family,“ recalls Kushnaryov, “so we applied for an asylum in the US which was granted to us immediately.”

Nikolay is not going to return to his homeland. He says that it’s mostly for “Pentecostals who are swayed by the end of the world prophecies and are afraid of the power of homosexuals.”

Not everyone is concerned about repatriation

Although the repatriation program caused some excitement among forum participants, it was shadowed by the theme of cultural survival of the Russian diaspora, especially the children who were born and raised in America.

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The speakers talked about subjects such as methods of teaching Russian to americanized children, free “clay modeling and sewing” lessons in schools, and availability of classic Russian literature in the libraries of Slavic schools.

According to a summary by Leonid Morgun, the director of the Christian Academy, without Russian government’s assistance to Russian schools in Sacramento, the diaspora will completely assimilate.

“We are a part of civilization away from our homeland,” concluded Leonid Morgun, “without help from Russia and Ukraine we are destined to perish.”

Ruslan Gurzhiy,