Russians Seek Armenia Citizenship

The Ukraine conflict has spurred many to acquire alternative passports.   

Semyon Ivanov moved to Armenia from Russia in March of this year. He says he initially came for only two months.

“I work in the field of  IT,” the 33-year-old explained. “The conflict had just started when I signed a contract with a company operating in Armenia and moved here. As part of the contract, I was provided with an apartment, it was in Gyumri [the second largest city]. My contract ended after two months, but I had already decided that I would not go back.”

Instead, he looked for a job in Yerevan, where more work was available.

“I found a job easily, I don’t complain about the salary, but the biggest problem was the apartment, Ivanov continued. “Housing prices are rising very fast here. I rent an apartment in the suburbs paying about 1,000 dollars.

"When I asked my Armenian friend to help me get an apartment at a more affordable price, he advised me to buy a house, he said that if I buy it from the bank with a mortgage, I will pay less, and the house will be mine.”

Ivanov went to the bank to find out what documents he needed to buy a property – and then realised he needed to become an Armenian citizen to do so easily.

“The bank presented me with the set of documents needed to get a loan, it also turned out that there are various state programmes that subsidise the interest rate of the apartment being purchased, and I needed citizenship to get all of that quickly,” he said.

For three months, he has been collecting the necessary documents, but is yet to be successful in his application.

“Acquiring citizenship is not so easy, one of the mandatory points is to have an Armenian kinship. I was lucky. One of my grandmothers is Armenian,” he said.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February this year led to huge numbers of Russians leaving the country. Tens of thousands made their way to Armenia, and the ongoing war has led to many considering acquiring Armenian citizenship.

According to the law, any person aged 18 or older can apply for Armenian citizenship.

The basic requirements are legal residence in Armenia for the last three years, a good knowledge of the Armenian language and an understanding of the country’s constitution.

The procedure of acquiring citizenship is simplified for ethnic Armenians and spouses or children of citizens. In these cases, the residence and language requirements do not apply.

Armenian citizenship, which is granted by presidential decree, can also be awarded without any requirement to persons who have provided exceptional service to the country.

According to official data, between January 1 and September 30 this year, 17,372 people applied to the police’s passport and visa department -  a huge rise from the 8,000 people who applied in 2021.

This increased demand led to the period for processing documents being decreased from six months to 90 days, but there are still delays.

“I stood in line in front of the passport department for days, but my turn never moved forward,” said 40-year-old Galina, who only recently acquired citizenship.

“I decided in summer that I should acquire citizenship. I need it to be able to do business in Armenia. I’m going to open a beauty salon here and, being a citizen I will get rid of various hassles. But you have to be very persistent to be able to enter the passport department.”

Galina admitted to resorting to dishonest tactics.

“One of our compatriots, who was more cunning, found an easy way to make money. He would come very early, wait in line, and then sell his [place]. I bought [it],” she said. 

Given the unprecedented flow of immigration, a new system is under consideration via which it may be possible to obtain Armenian citizenship through other means.

Investments of at least 150,000 dollars in Armenia, the acquisition of real estate or government bonds could facilitate citizenship, as could demonstrating particular skill in the fields of science or healthcare. A draft proposing a number of new benchmarks is currently under review.

“I learned from the news that there is such a draft,” Galina said, adding that she thought this might prove to be a popular option, even though it was a significant sum of money to find.

“Our red Russian passport is a problem today, but we can move to Europe with an Armenian one,” she said. “Many aspire to [Armenian] citizenship for this very reason. Yes, I won't lie, I also hope that one day my new passport will take me to Europe.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.