Germany is to relax visa requirements for skilled workers from Russia, just as the country’s domestic intelligence agency warned of a heightened risk that Russian nationals working for German firms could be recruited for industrial espionage.
The chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government is streamlining the visa application process by exempting Russian workers with specialised expertise in areas such as IT and communication technology from case-by-case assessments through the federal employment department.
The so-called “global approval for access to the labour market”, which applies only to Russian employees of German companies who are earning at least €43,992 a year, will last until 30 September.
Between the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the beginning of May, Germany issued more than 600 visas for Russian skilled workers, which allow for a longer stay in Germany than the 90-day so-called Schengen visa.
The German foreign office told the news agency dpa it had issued about 350 work visas via its Moscow embassy in April, in addition to a further 190 working visas issued by the general consulate in St Petersburg. Most of those in receipt of such visas were already working for German firms, dpa said.
Germany is already home to about 235,000 Russian passport holders, more than any other country in the European Union.
Only last week, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution issued a special warning that Russian nationals who were about to move to Germany, and those already working in the country, faced an increased risk of being blackmailed or otherwise put under pressure to collect information of use to a Russian economy increasingly cut off from global knowledge networks.
“Russia is increasingly isolated through the sanctions imposed in reaction to the war in Ukraine”, the report said. “Its economy is cut off from the knowhow and technologies of the west.”
Recruitment attempts could take place during mandatory appointments with Russian embassies or other bureaucratic bodies, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said. “They may also try to exercise pressure via reprisals against relatives or acquaintances who have remained in Russia”, the report continued. “In general, Russian intelligence services do not shy away from methods like threats and blackmail.”
Asked if the German government was introducing special measures to vet Russian working visa applicants, a spokesperson said: “Standard security checks of applicants are being made within the visa process.”
The decision to ease entry for Russian skilled workers comes as human rights NGOs said the German government was not doing enough to ease the visa application process for independent journalists facing repression in Russia.
About 70 Russian journalists and media professionals, most of them employees of the independent Russian TV channel Dozhd and the news website Meduza, have been put on a humanitarian visa list drawn up by the German culture ministry but do not yet qualify for the more generous visas for skilled workers.
“We want to offer Russian journalists who are being persecuted in Russia protection in Germany,” a spokesperson for the interior minister, Nancy Faeser, said on Monday. “We want to ease entry and speed up processes.”