Archive for the ‘Personal Admin – Staying Legal’ Category

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Reducing bureaucracy – Tax

October 10, 2012

It has to be said that the new Tax Code brought in under the current government was by and large quite welcome and far simpler than that which previously existed.

Many of us who have to deal with tax in Ukraine will have noticed the situation is somewhat easier and far less duplicitous than it previously was.

However, the new Tax Code was not perfect – is any tax system?

There remains still, a significant (if reduced) amount of duplicity when compiling tax returns, despite the amount of taxes dropping to 23 – many of which don’t apply to everybody anyway.

Nevertheless, it appears that further changes are to be made to the Tax Code and those 23 formal taxes reduced to a total of 9.  That in turn will no doubt reduce the duplicative bureaucracy required.

All that can be said is “hurrah and huzzah!” – Although no doubt bedlam will rule as it is almost guaranteed that any changes will be ineffectively implemented, thus taking time to trickle down through the system and “interpretations” slowly worked out by tax authorities and accountants alike.

Nevertheless, less categories of tax and less bureaucracy theoretically should translate into less time for me messing about with tax returns.  The trouble is theory and practice are likely to be two very different things. – We will see!

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An immigration conundrum – A Brit in Ukraine and the UKBA

September 2, 2012

Immigration is a very touchy subject in the UK.

Well it is everywhere, but as the subject of this entry is the UK, UKBA website, UK immigration rules et al, that seemed like a solid starting sentence.

On 9th July 2012, the immigration rules got much tougher.  Hurrah and huzzah cry the voting masses of the UK.  Keep those tax gobbling, social security eating foreigners out!

Well actually not all the voting masses cried hurrah and huzzah.  The UK voters living abroad in non-European Economic Area nations who are married or whom subsequently get married to foreigners from those nations (their new spouses, which may be with or without children from previous relationships) are likely to be less pleased.

The new rules, under which for example my wife would now fall under, stand as follows should we make the completely bizarre decision to live back in Blighty:

It now seems that regardless of how long a British citizen may have been married to a non-EEA national, be it 5 or 15 years, this now counts for naught as far as the UK is concerned.  If such a couple should manage to meet all the criteria (which I will soon come on to), then there is a qualification period of 5 years before British citizenship will be given to the foreign spouse to insure that the marriage is not one of “convenience” in order to allow said foreign spouse British Citizenship by way of dastardly scheming and trickery.

Thus, the many years I have been married and lived permanently with my Ukrainian wife in Odessa, are by inference, something of a sham as far as the UK bureaucracy goes.  They count for nothing if we were ever retarded enough to decide to return to the UK permanently.

Our marriage would only become one that is not of “convenience” 5 years after her application to become a British citizen having remained married during that application time. – And that is on the assumption that “British” will remain a citizenship and Scotland doesn’t leave Great Britain meaning that “Great Britain” isn’t “Great Britain” any more.

The thing is, my wife doesn’t want to become a British citizen.  She doesn’t want to live in the UK.  But is does piss her off greatly to have to dick around with Visas to enter her husband’s nation and to visit her in-laws when her nation granted me permanent residency/right to domicile after 2 years of marriage whether I live in Ukraine permanently or not.  No dicking around with Visas to come and go.

What is worse, every Visa she gets for the UK has to be applied for in person.  Despite the fact she has had 4 already.  And that application takes place in Kyiv only.  As she rightly states, her retinal scan and fingerprints won’t change, despite the fact they are taken for each and every Visa application.  Surely after being married so long and having so many UK Visa’s she could apply by post.  Neither her retina, fingerprints nor personal circumstances have ever changed in any application and thus a written oath to that effect upon further applications should suffice.

What is worse still, the applications used to be processed in Ukraine and all supporting documents and translations were returned.  Now, all applications are sent from Ukraine to Poland for processing and none of the supporting documents or translations are returned meaning additional expense to do all that copying and translating malarkey  every time.

Further, I’m fairly sure that Ukraine does not allow its national passports outside of Ukraine unless carried by those to which it is issued.  Thus the UK processing Ukrainian Visa applications in Poland would seem to breach this Ukrainian rule.

I, nor she, have any issue with a requirement to be able to speak enough English to survive when it comes to my wife if immigration to the UK was to occur.  The fact is she speaks better English than many native Brits.  Naturally anyone who lives legally in the UK should have some command of the language.

That said, Ukraine makes no such demands on me as far as Ukrainian or Russian languages are concerned as a requirement of my right to domicile.  I learned out of necessity and also good manners.

None of the above issues, whilst they may be annoying, are a major problem for a genuine marriage and a British citizen wanting to take their partner (and children if applicable) back to the UK to live.  A pain in the arse yes, relationship breaking, definitely not.

But there is a requirement that will create a problem for many.  In my case, this following point may or may not be  an issue, but for the majority of married British expats I know in Ukraine, this next requirement in effect is enough to either break a relationship or force said expat into permanent exile in Ukraine.

There is now a requirement for the immigrating couple to have an income of Sterling 18,600 (without children) and a requirement to have an income of Sterling 22,400 if they have a child – plus an additional Sterling 2400 per child if there is more than one.

That must surely create some serious issues for those who want to return to the UK but won’t be able to look for work until they get there.  It maybe they have accommodation with family sorted, even some savings (but not to that amount) and yet they will fail at this hurdle.

It will create problems for those that work but earn less than that figure, and to be quite honest, those here working for Ukrainian firms and then deciding to return home are not likely to be in a role that the Ukrainian firm can transfer to the UK and thus would be returning unemployed.

In times of high unemployment, if the UK citizen were to go on ahead of foreign spouse (and children), what are the chances of getting a job paying a suitable salary in a reasonably swift time to decrease time spent in enforced separation in order to meet the requirement?

How long would that position have to be held before it would be deemed an adequately long time to support the immigration of the foreign spouse (and children if applicable)?

Now to return to the UK voters who cry hurrah and huzzah to the new rules, of which my entire UK family would be amongst.  When presented with the fact that these rules would prevent my wife, their daugher-in-law/sister-in-law (whatever relationship) coming to live in the UK because I don’t have a job paying Sterling 18,600 per annum, (in fact I don’t have a job at all and have a massive hole in my curriculum vitae that covers the many years I have lived in Ukraine making me almost unemployable in the UK I would suspect), then somehow those rules are then “wrong”.

She should of course be allowed to live in the UK as we have been married for a very long time and I retired early because I made enough money to do so during my rather short working life, they would state.  Of course my savings and investments should be counted instead of having a job they say.  In fact they moan about the fact she even needs a Visa to enter the UK having been married to a UK citizen for so long.

So the rules are good for everybody else except “me and mine” as far as they are concerned.  The problem is, everybody has a “me and mine” that should be exempted but applied to everyone else, and rules there certainly must be.

Now I have written all this and you are asking why?  Considering I have absolutely no intention of returning to the UK and my wife likes the UK for a few weeks a year for nothing more than shopping, it is a good question.

The reason is, I know a UK chap married to a Ukrainian woman with a 16 year old daughter of Ukrainian citizenship,  who wants to return to the UK.  They have been married for many years, which count for naught as far as the UK is concerned.  Both his wife and the daughter would pass the English speaking, reading and writing test with ease – that is not a concern.

They have a place to live in the UK if they can actually get in, that puts no financial burden on the UK tax payer.  His mother has a house they can live in for free.

The issue is, he doesn’t have a job that pays Sterling 22,400 as he has lived in Ukraine for the past 5 or 6 years  and not many jobs here pay that much.  He doesn’t have a UK based job naturally as he isn’t in the UK to get one.  As far as I can tell, there is little in the way of savings, but given free accommodation awaits in the UK, that is not necessarily that much of an issue.

In short, as he said to me, he is faced with a choice of enforced separation for an unknown length of time whilst trying to find a job that meets the immigration requirement – and there is no guarantee that such a job will be found – or he remains in what is in effect, exile in Ukraine, as dictated by the new immigration rules should he want to keep his marriage and family life alive and well.

Now of course, my family back in Blighty would say, “this is madness, the rules weren’t designed to keep people like him and his family out”, but indeed the rules are so designed.  The armchair legals will spout Article 8 of the European Human Rights Act, proclaiming “Right to family life free of State interference – enforced separation is wrong”.  Well, yes, maybe so, but that doesn’t really help very much.

The rules may even be designed to keep my wife out unless there is some form of discretion that states having more than Sterling 18,600 in savings would count as being a Sterling 18,600 per annum job, in which case she would be OK and meet all criteria.  Fortunately neither she nor I has any wish to live permanently in the UK, so this will never have to be put to the test.

It seems a very sad situation for this chap, and no doubt there is very little wiggle room in the system he could explore.  Even if there was, we are talking about the UKBA, which in the pecking order of recruiting intelligent civil servants and employees is certainly not at the dizzy heights of the FCO and others.

I’m not even sure most UKBA employees could spell discretion, and even if there are a few who could spell it, I doubt they could find any wiggle room in the rules without being led their by the hand in order to use it.

If any of you dear readers have managed to return to Blighty with non-EEA wives (and kids if applicable) in tow in similar circumstances, do drop me a line and I will pass on any experience and help you maybe able to offer.

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Proposed change in abortion law – Ukraine

April 12, 2012

One of the most notable achievements of European society (for better or for worse depending upon your point of view) has been the separation of church from State during the evolution of the continent, and the resulting secular State.

For most European citizens, the Church is the Church and the State is the State  and never the twain shall meet again given the consequences historically.  No longer can the Church burn the heretics and non-believers who make up a sizable number of voters which no political party could afford to lose.

The Church remains, however, a significant social actor within most nations and is recognised and engaged with by the majority of States, be the governing party or leadership agnostic, atheist or of a different belief.  It can be, and is, a significant NGO both arguing for or against specific political policy.

Generally the secular model works fairly well and is particularly noticeable during electioneering where a candidates faith  (or lack or faith) is not a subject that features in any campaigning.  Something one suspects Mr Romney would appreciate but it unlikely to get across the Atlantic very soon.

However the Church (of whatever brand) like all organisations has its positions, interests and needs which most States will listen too and accommodate where it fits with the governing party’s own position, interests and needs.  State and Church therefore rub along together as best as they can whilst attempting to morally or politically lead the same flock.

Problems occur when the Church lobbies to create laws or to change laws which meet their position, but that large enough sections of a far less conservative society would strongly oppose to make the issue politically difficult for the State.

Ukraine currently allows abortion up until the 12th week of pregnancy and in extreme (one assumes medical emergency cases) the 22nd week of pregnancy.  That is the law.

The Orthodox Church however has been lobbying hard and has managed to get some lawmakers to submit a change to this law on abortion, proposing the practice be banned in Ukraine other than for medical emergency reasons.  It will soon come before the RADA for voting.

Now I am not interested in getting into the pro-life verses woman’s rights issues of the argument.  Everyone has their opinion  to which they are entitled.  I intend to look at this from the difficult position of the State, the current leadership of which face an election in October 2012 and are now faced with a very difficult vote (should the issue be forced to a vote in the RADA).

The current government, when it came into power, vowed to increase the population of Ukraine having recognised the national shrinking demographic.  (A continental issue not just one for Ukraine it should be noted.)  Thus banning abortions unless medically necessary would be one way to possibly achieve a jump in birth rates and some form of demographic recovery.  Vow kept.

However, the number of abortions in Ukraine has been significantly and consistently falling for the past 10 years.  In 2000 there were 434223 abortions performed in Ukraine.  In 2010 there were 176774.  With such  a steep  downward trend in society, is there any reason for State interference when it is a trend both Church and State (for different reasons) would approve of?  Whilst the trend continues, is this not a prima facie case for a State to leave well alone?

If acquiesce to the Church would get it on board in the run up to an election where the current government will struggle to retain such a sizable majority, if it hangs on to power at all (which it probably will), the Church, should it get such a legislative victory would undoubtedly sing the current governments praises and thus influence a reasonable amount of voters in the governments favour (either overtly or covertly).

At the same time, despite the fantasies propagated by marriage agencies about the “traditional values” of Ukrainian women, Ukrainian women are very emancipated and have been for a very long time.  Who if not the women, rebuilt the USSR after WWII and 30 million Soviets died, the majority being men?  The myth they sit at home and cook and pop out children on demand for the male head of the household is exactly that – a myth.

Therefore changing the law and banning abortion in all cases other than medical emergency (and any other specifically stated circumstance) could very well alienate a huge number of female voters which is a decidedly bad idea with an election looming.

There are then the casual effects to society to consider should this Church sponsored bill change the law.  Many Ukrainian women would simply travel to have the abortion done and those who could not may well resort to back-street abortions with horrendous consequences.

Those that had children may very well give them up to orphanages which are already woefully underfunded.

If they kept the children the State has such a poorly funded social welfare system that they could not afford to stay home and neither could they work, removing any tax they did pay from the system and increasing the social payment burden in the process.  That could increase numbers of child neglect cases and that, ultimately, could put increasing strains on the orphanages.

As the State cannot even make people pay their due taxes, finding and getting absent fathers to pay any form of maintenance is simply a non-starter.  Those women and children in that situation now, rarely see any money from the absent father and the State does nothing to enforce payment or track the father down.  If they could they would have far better tax revenues.

Is a generation of poor single parents and child poverty what the government sees as a sound policy when heading towards European norms?  Unlikely.

Talking of European norms, in banning abortion (other than in statutorily stated circumstance such as medical emergency) which other EU nations would it have for company?  Would the EU see such a move as a further back-sliding in human rights and womens rights in particular?

All in all a very difficult situation for policy makers to be in.

Protests about this proposed legal change have already started.  FEMEN (as you would expect) have already been arrested for climbing the bell tower of St Sophia’s in central Kyiv, ringing the bell and going topless (as is their signature protest action).  One has to suspect that should this legal change be seen to even remotely gain any traction the protests will become much larger.

Not a particularly nice thought for a sitting government with a major European tournament being hosted in 2 months time.  Massed rallies by the collective European feminati sisterhood would be a major embarrassment.

Much, one suspects, will come down to how much the current government needs to give something to the Church in the run up to the election to influence the masses favourably, or alternatively, how much can be gained by the current government to publicly and noisily putting the Church in its secular place in order to win over a large part of the female voter base by standing up for their existing rights under the current law.

One to watch in the coming months.

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Reforming the administration – A NGO invitation

April 2, 2012

Well, like him or not, and as a character I am not overly fond, but as an administrator he is very good, Prime Minister Azarov is certainly talking the right talk.  Obviously there is an election coming up and the talk is of course partially aimed at influencing voters and those in-State actors who can influence voters as well.  We should expect nothing less.  All sitting governments up for reelection do the same thing.

Anyway, Mr Azarov has issued an appeal to NGOs in Ukraine to assist the government in ridding itself of unnecessary administrative organs.

As he rightly states, “This work is not because we want less work, but because many administrative services are completely unnecessary.”  Quite true but only half the issue.  Not only is much of it unnecessary, but a lot of it that can be justified is overly complex and never situated in the same place, requiring different documents in a certain order, stamped and signed in a tour–de–bureoucratic organs before returning to your first port of administrative call, for them to conclude the most simple of official documentation matters.

Much of it is simply repetitive when production of document “A” would prove your have already have/done 99% of what is required for the production of document “B”.  Why repeat the entire process again?

Far too many administrative State organs have a requirement to be in the mix for simple document production  when there is no real justification for them to be part of the process at all.

I am quite sure an academic/NGO study of the Ukrainian administrative model could shrink it by a further 20% over and above any shrinkage already carried out by the government.

Cynically I am also quite sure the government are quite aware of this but want to involve NGOs and civil society in the run up to an election in an effort to get them “on-side” as much as possible.  After all, there are numerous neighbouring States that have made the administrative transition from USSR bureaucracy to a more modern administrative system who would be only too pleased to share their experiences with Ukraine.

If it were not an election year, you would suspect that tax-payer funded jollies to these nations to investigate their new administrative systems would have been the preferred governmental methodology.

However, it is an election year, the invitation has been made and any NGO worth the title will actively engage with the government given such an open invitation.  A foot in the door and collaboration over this makes it easier to gain access through the same door when pushing other issues the government is not so willing to action.

Let us hope it is an opportunity not only seized by the civil society active in Ukraine, but also the diplomatic missions of those nations with embassies and consulates here as well.  Who better to give advice over bureaucracy in other nations and their systems than the bureaucrats from other nations?

Mr Hague, FCO, UK Ambassador to Ukraine and boiler room staff in Kyiv, you all hail from possibly the oldest established civil service in Europe if not on the planet.  Choose a subject, for example tax and tax administration, and promote our experience and systems to the government of Ukraine.  As much as I dislike paying tax as the next person, our UK system is far easier to cope with than that of Ukraine as a tax payer.  I have experience of both.

This must be a golden opportunity to get very friendly with the current Ukrainian government if the UK government chooses to take it.

Go on FCO – I dare you to make a positive difference to every Ukrainian by showing the current Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers a better, more streamlined and efficient way in an administrative area of your choice.

Gauntlet publicly thrown down Mr Hague and chums!

(As an aside, Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi, First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine is in the interrogation seat at Chatham House tonight (1730 – 1830 BST) for a grilling on Ukrainian foreign policy by my esteemed and astute fellow Chatham House members.  If he says anything unexpected I’ll let you know over the course of the next few days.)

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Prostitution and Euro2012

March 11, 2012

Elsewhere in cyberspace, in the Ukrainian and Russian forums to be exact, a debate is running relating to prostitution and the Euro2012 football tournament to be held here in about 3 months time.

The debate is along the lines of prostitution remaining illegal and thus those traveling foreign fans, some of whom hail from nations where prostitution is legal, regulated and taxed by the State,  falling foul of the local police when indulging in carnal pleasures, or whether it should be legalised for the duration of the tournament in the hosting cities (or at least not pursued by the police for the duration of the tournament) or whether it should be legalised (or decriminalised)  anyway.

Should Ukraine follow the German (and others) route with regulation and tax, or should it keep its own domestic laws as they are?

Should the authorities turn a discrete blind eye during the tournament, particularly in regard to foreign fans and avoid unnecessarily arresting foreigners and the diplomatic issues related to persons detained?

See no evil......

All very tricky when good arguments can be made for all 3 options.  As it happens this is more of a philosophical debate than a real policy debate as there is little noise coming from the RADA relating to the issue at all.  Thus the law is unlikely to change.  That does not mean, of course, the blind eye policy will not be quietly encouraged.

Fortunately I live in a city that is not hosting the tournament so these issues will not affect Odessa unless the law does change.  One suspects that it is only a matter of time before somebody in the EU thinks it is a good idea to recognise prostitution as a profession and regulate and tax it similar to Germany across the entire EU block, but that is something for the future one suspects.

For me, the core issue is not one of prostitution being legal or otherwise.  It will happen regardless.  It is the question of choice of those involved in such activities.  There are some involved, male and female, who do this through absolute free choice.  There are others forced and coerced into it.  The latter to me is completely and utterly unacceptable.  The former as far as I am concerned is fair enough.

There are of course social issues when it comes to known red light districts for those residents who live there and are not involved in such activities but that is a regulatory and enforcement issue which some nations cope with quite well and others fail miserably at.

Now I have to make a full disclosure and say I don’t know any prostitutes who work the streets of Odessa.  I do know a Madame and several escorts who work for her but on no account work the streets or the bars and clubs.  I suppose at $100 per hour to visit a local hotel by appointment, there is no requirement to work for less or to have to hunt out men in bars and clubs at lesser fees and with the overheads of club entry.

To be honest it is not a conversation I have ever had with any of the ladies involved and I should point out rather robustly that as a married man whose wife also knows the Madam and the same escorts I do, then I have never met them in their professional capacity.  In fact the only reason I know them is via my wife and she knows the Madam from her school days.

It is difficult to say the escorts involved are doing it against their will.  They work only 3 or 4 days a week and also work unaccompanied across Europe for several days at a time via the services offered by this business and earning a very respectable Euro 1500 – 2000 per day.

It seems to me to be very different from those poor men and women who are forced into such a profession against their will, which is where my objections I have to such a business lay.

An interesting and quite passionate debate nonetheless on the local forums, with debaters of both sexes on all sides of the discussion.

One wonders how the Ukrainian authorities will deal with this issue when it rears its head in a few months time.

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Human Rights Watch open letter to Ukraine re Somali detainees

February 6, 2012

Now here is an interesting letter to those in government and the presidential administration relating to the plight of 125 Somali refugees detained in Ukraine.

Why would a Somali choose Ukraine?  Well of course they wouldn’t.  They will have been detained en route to the EU or bounced back to Ukraine by the EU under the readmission agreement when found illegally in the EU having entered via Ukraine.  In effect leaving Ukraine with people it cannot deport back to Somalia for obviously reasons and people it cannot move on either.

Adding to the complication is the human rights law that Ukraine passed in 2011, “Refugees and Persons in need of Complementary or Temporary Protection” designed to give some form of legal framework to deal with those caught illegally in Ukraine but cannot be deported to their home nations due to the dangers they would face if they were, but also do not have the intention of claiming refugee status in Ukraine and were simply transiting the country to greener pastures until detained.

Many then ultimately try to claim asylum in Ukraine as a next best option to the EU and certainly a better option to Somalia.  You can see their point of course.  Ukraine may not be paradise but it is certainly a long way from being the hell that is Somalia.

As the UK, Greece and many others have discovered, once you have them, you have them.  There is no moving them on or bouncing them back to Somalia either.

The question is what is Ukraine to do with them?

Thus far it has taken a Greek approach and worked within the existing national human rights laws of Ukraine.  Detention for 12 months (hoping the Somalian situation improves so deportation will be possible) and then releasing them as that is the maximum period of detention foreseen by the applicable Ukrainian laws.

Once released they have 5 days to obtain appropriate documents to remain in Ukraine, illegally enter another nation, or eventually they are rearrested and detained for a further 12 months (again hoping the situation in Somalia will improve to the point where they can be deported).

They can of course try an claim asylum in Ukraine, as they have tried to do in many other nations.  More often than not it will be refused as in many other nations (see UK and Greece cited in the letter) by national courts.

Quite obviously very few governments want to become home to Somalian refugees or become seen as the nation that all will head for by granting asylum easily.  Very few national governments also want to willingly put Somalis in grievous danger  by returning them to Somalia either.  By the same token, very few governments want Somalis wandering around their nation should the situation in Somalia eventually improve to allow for deportation back to Somalia.

Allowing the Somalis to freely roam Ukraine and repeatedly try and enter the EU does Ukraine no favours when Ukraine is seeking Visa-free travel with the EU.  An inability to control its border with the EU would not help that process at all.  Should the Ukrainian population’s aspirations for Visa-free travel with the EU be jeoparised by allowing illegal entrants into Ukraine the opportunity to try and cross the border into the EU, thus becoming a negative statistic when assessments are made?

The situation is made far more difficult as Somalia doesn’t have an Embassy or Consulate in Ukraine allowing regular communication and discussion of how to solve the problem in general or individual human rights issues/claims.

Ukraine, as a nation that has a functioning but severely stretched and underfunded social support system, is highly unlikely to want to add numbers to care for to that system on an open ended time-line,  simply because they illegally entered Ukraine and cannot be sent home in good conscience.

All that said, Ukraine has international and humanitarian obligations.  No detained Somali should be subjected unnecessarily to physical abuse.  Abuse though takes many forms and the seemingly never ending cycle of 12 months detention, 5 days of freedom, followed by another 12 months of detention could be perceived as psychological abuse and/or abuse of the legislative system.  If so, Ukraine is not unique in this regard as the HRW letter states.

Something of a dilemma for the Ukrainian authorities, particularly having deliberately made the humanitarian step of plugging a legislative gap last year.

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Customs changes to personal allowances – Ukraine

November 11, 2011

Apologies for this and the previous post seeming to be public service announcements, but some of you dear readers actually read this blog for hard information and not my ruminations on the state of the nation.

In keeping with the public service side of this blog, with regards to the new rules if you click here you will be directed to the personal new allowances relating to customs and excise in Ukraine.

Enjoy!

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