In April 2018, VironIT developer Chiara Sammarco got the opportunity to work in Belarus without a visa. She was the first to enter the country “at the request of the HTP.”
Belarusian IT online magazine Dev.by met with Chiara and found out why she came here to learn Russian and stayed to work after two years of study, what she thinks about Belarusian developers, and what she thinks is the “real Belarus.”
“I did not understand Russian, I didn’t even understand the plates.”
I have always wanted to learn about other cultures and languages. It happened that even in my homeland I met with children from Belarus at an international school – they told me about their country, about the fact that you can learn Russian here. I googled: language courses at MGLU cost less than in Moscow universities. In February 2016, I paid for 10 months of study in Minsk. Then I took another course – for the same duration. At first, I had to receive help from friends, since I did not understand Russian at all. I did not understand the signs and inscriptions on the streets.
I remember what struck me in Minsk – how cold it is here! I was born and raised in Southern Italy, in the town of Reggio Calabria: in winter we have an average of +10 degrees – I was not ready for the Belarusian frosts. At first, I was cold all the time, dressed like cabbage. And now everything turned fine: I am not afraid of the cold, and I go out into the streets in the same down jacket. But I was never able to get used to the fact that it is always dark in Minsk: I leave the house, I come back – twilight.
“At first, I did everything wrong: I updated my LinkedIn profile, sent out a resume”
I did not plan to stay in Belarus after graduation. But all of a sudden I thought why not – by that time I already knew that there are a lot of IT companies here. I am a telecommunications engineer by education: within our university program, we studied programming in PHP, Java, C ++, and other languages. I worked as a PHP developer: first in Florence and in Rome, and then in Switzerland.
It occurred to me that at first, I did everything wrong: I updated my LinkedIn profile, sent out a resume – and nothing. And then I posted a resume on dev.by and jobs.tut.by, and then proposals from companies came.
How many interviews did you have?
Not so much. At first, I didn’t know yet which programming language to indicate as my primary choice – I decided to try Java. I went to two interviews. What conclusions I made on them: your developer should know everything. My level of knowledge was not enough for Java (after all, I am a telecommunications engineer, not a pure programmer). And subsequently I decided to look for projects on PHP, because I already had considerable experience with it.
The interviewers were somehow concerned with the fact that you are Italian?
All interviews began with: “Why do you want to work here?” I answered: “I want to learn from you!” I really learned a lot from my colleagues, watched how they were fighting for the quality of the code, how they solved the problems. In Belarus, there are very cool programmers, in a meticulous but positive way. Thanks to them, I seriously grew. I pestered my colleagues with questions, asked them to criticize my work.
How did you end up picking where to work?
I did not send a resume to VironIT. They themselves came to me. It was already the fourth place where I went for an interview. The interview was very long, but I liked it. For you, too, it happens: you go somewhere, and you realize that it’s your place.
Can you still explain what was crucial in the decision process?
I liked the people. I realized that here they treat their employees with great respect – this is important for me: this is the foundation on which everything else is built.
Did the interview take place in English or in Russian?
Mostly in English – it’s easier for me. Although several times I switched to Russian.
“Italian border guards called to Minsk to make sure that my name is on a special list”
What bureaucratic procedures were necessary for you to become part of a new team?
I was lucky: everything could have been much more complicated, but on March 28 of the previous year the Decree on the HTP 2.0 just came to be enforced. And on the 27th, we met with a future employer.
We discussed everything, and I was told that it might be possible to solve everything here, in Minsk. And I don’t even have to leave the country. Nevertheless, I returned to Italy for a couple of weeks, since my visa expired on the 28th.
It was new, not only for me, but for everyone. Imagine, in Italy they did not want to let me out of the country, because I did not have a visa. At my request, the border guards called Minsk, to the airport, because I said that my name is on a special list. “They will confirm with you that I do not need a visa.”
But in Minsk there were no problem. After a couple of days, we went with HRV VironIT to the Citizenship and Migration Department to register for me – and over there they already knew me well.
What does “know” mean?
Both years that I lived here while studying at the Minsk State Linguistic University, I constantly went there.
Well, of course: if I need to go somewhere, I need a visa, and I went here. Sometimes I went there to ask – is it not enough, if you are not sure about something, it is better to make sure of it. But since I was registered last April, I no longer need to go there.
How long did it take to prepare all the documents for employment?
“I also like how fast the city grows”
I earn less now than I did in Italy or Switzerland. But for Belarus, mine is a fairly high salary, especially compared to the income of people outside IT.
In Europe, I could travel. Now it is an expensive pleasure. But I wanted to live in Belarus, learn from your developers – I see it as an investment for my personal cultivation.
How often do you travel to Italy and other European countries?
In 10 months I left Belarus 4 times.
How do your relatives feel about you living and working in this country?
Well, they accepted it. They do not expect me to live with them: 6 years ago I told my parents: “Bye, bye!” – and moved.
Have any of them been visiting you here?
Yes, one of my sisters came to Minsk in May. We walked along Nemiha, the sun was shining, and she said: “Oh, it’s almost summer here!” Two days later it got colder, the weather became like Italy in late autumn, and on the last day it began to snow, and then I think I understood what I meant when I talked about Belarus. But she saw so many things that she liked in the country too. By the way, my second sister will come to me soon.
Italians have at least two things to be proud of – food and fashion …
Oh, Belarusians are also watching fashion shows. It can be seen: everyone looks different. Among my Italian friends there are many who love to express themselves through clothing. And in general, we take this seriously: “beautiful clothes are like a letter of recommendation”. But if in Italy the ratio of those who follow the fashion and are free from being dictated by it is fifty-fifti, Here, 9 out of 10 follow the fashion.
Is there a difference between how Belarusians seemed to you on arrival and now?
At the very beginning y’all are a bit introverted. Now I have many friends in Minsk, and I cannot say that you are all the same. Among my friends there are funny guys with whom you can laugh for the whole evening. In the subway you also see gloomy faces. But I know that these are kind, peace-loving people: they are simply tired, thinking or sad.
How do you like the city?
It is very nice, I like walking along the streets. Somehow I happened to be at the Malinovka metro station – and my attention was drew to a building in the shape of a ship. It was so unusual. I also like how fast you guys build things. I went to the chucrh in New Borovaya and paid attention to how quickly the new district is growing. And these houses are very beautiful! For me, all this is surprising, because in my country it is not so: in Italy – especially in the south – we have been waiting for years for new buildings to erect. If something starts, no one knows when the construction will be completed.
Where do you live in Minsk?
In Uruchye, four minutes walk from the subway.
Have you ever been to Serebryanka, Chizhovka, Shabany or the Stone Hill?
The Stone Hill – yes. In general, I do not remember the names of areas. When I first came to Minsk, I lived almost in the center – not far from Belarus Cinema. It was an old house built in Soviet times. When I entered the staircase, I even asked: “Did I make a mistake?”
Did you get into the “grandmother’s” (a building built in the late 50s and 60s)?
No, but the apartment was very, very old and very small. In general, everything was different from what I was used to. Then I settled with it. I really like my current apartment.
“Provincial towns are the real Belarus. It was there where I found your roots. ”
Do you miss Italian cuisine here?
I cook well – at any moment I can cook something for myself.
Mostly dishes from Italian cuisine?
Basically, yes. Although pasta, for example, I do not cook every day. I learned to fry pancakes and cook “babka.” I started cooking soups: in our country they are wonders – perhaps it’s too hot for us. I like borsch and cold soup. And what is the name of the first dish with cabbage? Shchi? I cook them with everything I have in the fridge.
Where can you get the best pizza in Minsk?
From me! Sometimes my friends and I go out for dinner in the evening to Terra Pizza or Dominos. And on Fridays in VironIT they often arrange a celebration on the occasion of someone’s birthday – and then we order pizza to the office. Those are good!
What products do you lack here?
Cheese: what is sold here as ricotta, even Italian, is not ricotta at all. In Italy, I buy homemade cheese from farmers, as well as in the market: pecorino, ricotta, mozzarella. Olive oil back home is also better than what is sold in stores: it even has a different taste.
In my house, the cult of food is the main theme of our family gatherings. By inviting friends to the house, we begin preparing for their arrival in a few days. Everyone in my family is a great cook: my uncle is a chef at a restaurant, one of my brothers worked as a pizza maker at a pizzeria, he cooks very well – not just pizza, but everything.
“Food unites everyone,” we believe. We enjoy its taste, but we are also pleased by communicating with each other, when we gather at a large table and talk heart to heart, we learn about what happens in the life for each of us. It binds us even more.
In my family, it’s customary to have lunch together. My brothers, sisters and I flew out of the parental home, but if possible we gather on Saturday or Sunday at the same table.
Have you been anywhere else except Minsk?
Yes, I traveled a bit. I was in Postavy several times – my friends invited me. And also in Gantsevichi and Lyakhovichi. Once or twice I went to Pinsk, was in Nesvizh and other places. You know, Minsk is a beautiful city, you can immediately see: It’s the capital. But still, with the pace of life and his character, he resembles other European capitals. And the provincial towns are completely different – this is the real Belarus, I think. Over there I found your roots.
In Lyakhovichi I first visited the “dacha” (country house) – in other languages there isn’t even an equivalent to this word, right? Only you guys get dachas. I remembered how I was a scout, went hiking – then I felt a sense of unity with nature.
I also made a pilgrimage to Budslav. For me, this was a first: a group of guys and I traveled on bicycles – we rode for 3 days. I did not believe that I could cover the distance to Budslav, but the guys told me: “Do not worry! Everybody can: even the children go with us. ”And indeed there was a boy with us, he rode on a children’s bicycle, and mastered the way along with everyone. We slept under the open sky. And there was another moment that touched my soul. When we arrived at the cathedral in Budslav, people knelt down and went to the temple on their knees. I have never seen such a thing! It made a strong impression on me. In Budslau also, I saw a goat closely for the first time. And they even allowed me to milk it, it was fantastic.
And I also paid attention to the children playing in streets. Now in Italy, children mostly play with gadgets, and therefore do not know how to build relationships with their peers. I also saw a grandfather playing with his grandchildren, and he didn’t have a smartphone in his hands.
Tell us about your plans: will you stay in Minsk, will you work as a developer?
No, I recently decided to take a time out. In April I will return to Italy for a while, to “recharge”: I want to see my family and enjoy the sun. Perhaps I will continue to work in Italy, or in some English-speaking country.
Guide on how to hire a foreigner within two weeks
How can an HTP resident company hire a foreigner: instruction from VironIT
Prior to the enforcement of Decree No. 8, the process of employing a foreigner in an HTP resident company could take several months and still result in nothing. In comparison: from the moment of the offer until the start of work for Chiara, an Italian citizen, has only lasted 18 days.
Step 1. Visa
We send a letter to the HTP with a request to include the future employee in the list of persons whose movement across the state border of the Republic of Belarus is allowed without visa requirements. A copy of the passport is attached to the letter (in addition, the data will be sent in PDF format).
Within 10 working days, the HTP staff will notify the State Border Committee, and the issue with the visa would be resolved. You will learn about this from a letter that will be sent to you from the HTP.
Step 2. Employment contract
We settle a typical employment contract on the agreed terms. In advance, it is also worth making notarized translations of all necessary documents (passports, diplomas, etc.).
Step 3. Citizenship and Migration Division
Within three working days, it is necessary to notify the Department of Citizenship and Migration (at the place of residence of the employee) about entering into an employment contract. The letter must specify the duration of the contract.
Within 5 days starting from the moment of arrival, it is necessary to issue a registration. To do this, you must provide:
- application for registration of a foreign citizen (the form to fill out can be taken in OGiM). “The document is filled by the company-employer. The petition must be certified by the seal and the director of the company”;
- a copy of the passport and a copy of its notarized translation;
- the original of the receipt for payment of the registration procedure (details for payment can also be taken at the Department of Geological and Anthropologic Medicine);
- a copy of the tenancy agreement;
- copy of company registration certificate in HTP.
Simultaneously with registration, you can submit documents for issuing a temporary residence permit. Currently, a temporary residence permit is issued for the maximum period as long as the insurance is valid. Required documents:
- an application for the issuance of a temporary residence permit (the form for filling can, again, be taken at the United State Geological and Technical Administration);
- original receipt of payment for the procedure for issuing a temporary residence permit;
- copy of the employment contract;
- insurance policy (at the moment, April 2018, it is possible to buy insurance for up to one year).
The temporary residence permit would be ready within 10 working days