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This spring I ran away from Russia due to increasing repressions and other risks. Long story short, I got a Ph.D. position in quantum computing at Stuttgart University in the state of Baden-Württemberg. I was told to be in Germany at the 1st of June to sign my contract and start my Ph.D., but after my arrival university staff notified me that I am under check up by BAFA (an organisation dealing with export). After 3 months I was rejected from the promising position. Arguments were that I could be a spy and also could steal important knowledge from the university.

I also recently was told that even the fact that I studied in Russia is a problem. As far as I know I am the first such case, I've asked people that got a degree from my university (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) and all of them are doing fine in Germany. I've heard people from China and India sometimes face such problems. I would like to know if anyone is familiar with my case and if there is some solution to it or what organization I could ask for help. Because the decision was made after 3 months in September. I don't have enough time to get an employment contract in another Ph.D. program. I spend almost all my money only to get to Germany and now I really don't know what to do.

UPD1: Thanks everyone who sent their support and gave me advice.

UPD2: If you would like to blame me for the war, because I am russian and I deserve everything what is happening to me, please, do not do it here, do it there [email protected], it is my email.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:06
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    I vote to close this question because it depends too much on personal details, as you state "all other people are doing fine in Germany".
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:48
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    @EarlGrey I wrote " I've asked people that got a degree from my university (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) and all of them are doing fine in Germany", not all other people. The meaning of this sentence that people that I know did not face any legal problems with employment. It is just my observation.
    – Evgenii
    Oct 19, 2022 at 15:57
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    @Dr.Snoopy I need to ask an Ukrainian lawyer, but I think I could. Problem is this procedure takes more than 1 year. Not only my citizenship is a problem but also the fact that I study in russian university. Also, I was told that people from post soviet space will have problems with employment in cutting edge research if they have degree from russian education facility.
    – Evgenii
    Oct 21, 2022 at 11:56
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    @Evgenii I only comment about citizenship due to easing of migration rules, Ukrainians have visa-free access to the Schengen area, and more chances to get work permits. I do not comment on rumors or "I was told" because these could be not true and it all depends on where (institute/uni) and what (topic, environment), this is something key, it is still possibly for you to find PhD positions or a job to support yourself, apply, do not assume the blanket ban that some of the answers are implying. Know the local system and you will have no trouble finding a job. Just try to be flexible.
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 17:47

5 Answers 5

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There is a lengthy discussion in the comments already, and I hope people more familiar with the German side of things have sufficiently elaborated on that.

I would instead try to offer you an analysis from the perspective of someone still planning the move.

You have a pool of resources available to you and a bunch of liabilities. Your biggest liabilities are:

  1. Money. You need money to survive, at the end of the day, and will need to sort it out somehow. From your post, you do not have much left and spending an year or two on tropical island vacation arranging your next position is understandably not on the list.
  2. Legal status/background. Goes without saying.
  3. Poor social capital. You do not seem to have a strong network, especially outside of Russia. Your research profile is okay, but not stellar.
  4. Doing anything outside of continuing research is clearly not optimal in the long run, but you might need to make concessions as you go.

Your main recourse lies in whatever reputable contacts you do have and in what skills you demonstrably have. In this case, it seems like the professor has jumped the gun and decided to avoid any potential complications - after all, they have not that much to gain and a lot to lose. That you have not managed to make a convincing case in over 4 months since the date your contract was supposed to start is hugely problematic. I am afraid convincing the university to reverse the decision within a week is, essentially, an impossible task.

Given the visa expiration date, your immediate next step would be either moving somewhere else for the time being (this may prove impossible due to money issues), applying for the asylum or getting stuck in the legal limbo. Like @Dr.Snoopy points out, you could, in theory, live in Germany without having the paperwork and try to find employment, but this is also problematic for obvious reasons. I would advice at least consider applying for the asylum: that way your stay will be legal while your application is being considered (of course, it is not of much help if you get a desk reject the very next day).

Another immediate action is contacting whoever you believe could support you one way or another - your advisor and colleagues are probably your first option here when it comes to job seeking, but pursue as many leads as you possibly can at once.

Finally, have a plan of action for when things go wrong and do not put all eggs in one basket (I guess you have learned that lesson the hard way). Your current situation is fairly bad, so adjust your expectations accordingly - it will give you a different perspective on your options.

It is soul crushing to have a bright future taken away from you by something you did not really have influence over, but, IMHO, it is better to view your circumstances pessimistically and be ready to work hard and build your career from the ground up. On the plus side, you do not have to leave behind some 20+ years of your work.

I sincerely hope you will be able to turn it around.

UPD: Things seem to get increasingly complicated with respect to being able to move outside of Russia once you are here. Treat the returning option as your very last resort, and maybe not even that.

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    I think this answer misses the point a little: The problem is the field of study, especially after this became public, German universities have probably become more cautious. I guess the primary decision OP has to make is if it is more important to get out (stay out) of Russia or to do a PhD in that specific area.
    – erc
    Oct 20, 2022 at 6:10
  • @erc You sum it up pretty well - IMHO, they have several options: either find some country more willing to go ahead with them pursuing it (China would be the most obvious option here but given the context, they might get a measure of personal comfort but there are obvious problems with this decision; oddly, USA might be more receptive also), be willing to sacrifice their field of study (likely the least contentious), or go back to Russia (the worst option for OP).
    – Lodinn
    Oct 20, 2022 at 7:18
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    But the reason I'm "missing the point" here is that assuming for a moment OP is willing to not pursue their chosen academic track for a while or even at all - and I'd argue they should be definitely considering this - it still leaves them with a logistical nightmare right now. They thought they had a job lined up for them and now are in a foreign country without money, documents or job prospects. They don't have the luxury of mulling over decades-spanning decisions and must focus on making ends meet first.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 20, 2022 at 7:22
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I'm sorry to hear about the situation you are in. I have been hesitant to post an answer as it's not really a clear-cut solution to your question. However, since I realized that in the current situation there is probably nobody who can give you a definite solution I'll give it a shot and hope that it helps you and others in your situation.

I can imagine a few options to explore, I'll try to outline what I know about them and where you can get more information. I'll assume that you are located in our near Stuttgart- if not, you can find similar organisations in all major German cities.

1. Immediate help:

I don't know how much money or time on your visa/residence permit you have left. If your situation is desperate and a return to Russia is impossible you really might want to think about whether you will apply for refugee status or not (as already mentioned by other posters). From your description I got the feeling that this is not what you are aiming for, but if your only alternative is living under a bridge, this might be an option. If you go this route I suggest to open another topic in a different stack to get more information.

If you have a bit more time and money left, you might find the following information interesting:

2. Official German job portal aimed at Russian immigrants:

Not specifically aimed at academia, but there exists a special program by the German federal government for recruiting qualified Russian immigrants who are leaving their homeland due to the current situation. Information in German and Russian, website aimed at Russians: https://www.make-it-in-germany.ru/

As you were planning to start a PhD you have presumably a master degree and therefore might be considered "qualified". Perhaps you can find some useful information there that allows you to find a job that pays the bill and gives you a residence permit until you can sort out PhD positions.

3. Stuttgart University/ PhD supervisor

  • Make sure to collect as much information about your situation in writing as possible. Who made the decision not to hire you? The professor, the university or was it a blanket decision by BAFA (which I do not believe)? On which grounds? It's important to know whether you will face the same challenges at every other position you could apply for. I strongly suspect that it's the field that triggered the problems as I know several Russian scientists which are employed without problems in Germany.
  • If it was the professor's decision and not that of the university: Are there any other free PhD positions in related but not security-relevant fields? Have you checked with the student advisors of the university? Might be a long shot, but who knows... Information for doctoral students doctoral students (in English) and generally for international students.
  • Whether your degree itself is a problem, can be checked via the anabin database. This database allows users to check whether a given institute/university is considered an accredited university and whether a given degree has a German equivalent. The website is in German and as I don't know the official name of your degree I cannot check whether it's listed. If you want me/us to check you might want to post the name of your degree. Please note: the universities are the ones which in the end can decide whether to employ you or not; rules for universities vary from one German state to another.

4. other German universities/ research institutes

  • Check other universities whether they have international offices which offer fast help for people stuck in Germany because of the current situation. Many universities started programs/stipends for helping Ukrainian students and researchers in a fast and unbureaucratic way. Some of them expand the help beyond Ukrainians to "everybody affected by the war". Again, it's a long shot, but perhaps you can find some help there.
  • Another long shot, but perhaps the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) can advice you: https://www.daad.de/en/the-daad/information-for-russian-students-and-researchers/

Final note: As you can see there is quite some information aimed directly at Russians, therefore I conclude that your nationality is not principally a problem and there is hope that with some adjustments to your original plan you might be able to make it work at a different university.

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If you went to Germany, I assume you have at least a minimum knowledge of German.

Then just move to Austria. They always had a more neutral attitude, plus it is much cheaper to live there.

Given the boundary political condition, you will probably have to deal with low-paying, low-qualified jobs, for a short or long spell of time. But Austria has a much more balanced salary-cost of life ratio. And Austira is a overlooked destination, so you will be able to find a technical job much quick there. Not ideal, but you have the knowledge to boot yourself up and become a programmer. And after a couple of years you will be able to get into a Ph.D. program.

The bottom line is: now you have to fight for your political ideas, do not expect you will always find someone supportive. You are unfortunately fighting for a repressed idea, which is "russian are humans, russian deserves some right, russian politician invaded a foreign country" and it is a very unpopular idea in the West, because the West is now thinking "Putin is a psycopathic, invading for no meaningful reason a foreign country, therefore Russia is a country of psycopathic", which has been very recently summed up by the vice-president of the European Union "we are a garden, outside there is a jungle" (Borrell, 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7f_XLuiNa4).

Good luck, and enjoy the ride, your voice in the West is not censored, but unfortunately it will be voluntarily not heard.

P.s.: because of the war, you are facing these temporary issues that are preventing you from getting into your dream path. Whenever one of these temporary issues is death, the prevention from getting the dream path becomes permanently. I feel a bit for you (let's say a bit more for you than the average yemeniti and somali, because I am an horrible person), but I feel much more for all the Ukranians and the Russian being slaughtered in this proxy conflict.

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    If I'm correct that the field of study (quantum computing) is the real issue, not Germany, then this will help little. It is a potentially sensitive subject due to its relationship to encryption (a munition in most places, including the US).
    – Buffy
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:49
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    If my social circle is any indication at all, language is not high on the list of considerations for most people who left, be it before or after the war started. It is just a "nice to have", the priorities are generally 1) Not dying 2) Not ending up in prison 3) After 1 and 2 are fulfilled for the immediate closest circle, making ends meet 4) Not being thrown too far off the chosen life path (one could become a janitor in theory, sure) 5) Other nice-to-haves. Thank you for your sympathy and yes, there are still people who have it much, much worse...
    – Lodinn
    Oct 19, 2022 at 15:57
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    @Buffy the subject itself also a problem. Some of top scientist in quantum computing are russians (Harvard,Caltech) and there more in Europe too. I don't think anyone will close this subject to them, right? I think I could only hope that different export organizations will be more selective, why throw away good brains if you could use them+they could support Ukraine with money or help to develop quantum technologies in Ukraine. I would like to do this (I am ethnic Ukrainian) instead of dying in russian prison.
    – Evgenii
    Oct 19, 2022 at 16:16
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    They may well have more trouble getting their research funded. You don't have to be a fanatic Putinist to spy for Russia. If someone still has family members in Russia, and got a visit with the message that it would be a shame if something where to happen to them, then few could blame her/him if (s)he would than collaborate... Oct 19, 2022 at 19:29
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    Quantum Computing is not practically related to any security considerations. The connection to Shor's algorithms and other "crypto breaking algorithms" is still a theoretical curiosity. And there is no real risk in the next decade or so for "stealing information", apart perhaps for people in Quantum experimental physics, if at all. I'd cast this treatment of the candidate as a slightly political motivated action, more than an objective cautionary measure. I would suggest the OP to search for other more welcoming country.
    – Dilworth
    Oct 20, 2022 at 12:28
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If I were you, I would do everything to prove that I am neither a spy nor dangerous in some other way. They told you that there is an investigation against you. You did not say anything about the results. If you know them, try to prove them wrong. If they have not told you the results, this might be illegal - I am pretty sure that you have a right to know what they are holding against you. Try to find out who is responsible for this and get the details of the investigation. What do they hold against you? Can you prove them wrong?

I would also try to find other scientists from Russia who work at Stuttgart university, ideally in your field of research. Get in touch with them and tell them your story. Can you prove that you are not a part of the Putin system? Did you take part in demonstrations, do you have friends that fight for democracy? If you can convince them that you are not a spy, they can help you to find a way to solve this problem.

Even if there is no chance to get the job at Stuttgart university again, you should do everything to get rid of this accusation.

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    I'm afraid that's what OP should have done as soon as they heard of the investigation in the first place (which seems to be shortly after their arrival around the 1st of June or even before, "this spring"), not almost half an year later.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 20, 2022 at 11:18
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    I see your point, but I somehwat doubt that this will solve OP's problem. As others have pointed out in other comments, when it comes to security relevant technology, it's not the only issue that someone might start a position with the intention to spy - as long a the applicant has close friends or relatives in Russia, they might just be coerced to spy, no matter whether they want to support the current Russian government. (For the record, I am completely sympathetic with OP's frustration - I just have doubts that he currently has real chances to be allowed to work on this project.) Oct 20, 2022 at 11:36
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    Besides, it is incredibly hard to actually prove. Surely, if I were to send a spy, providing them with a "proof" of persecution at home would be a non-issue? A slip of a paper about detention, a photo in the police department... Having some sort of evidence in a western-controlled medium (e.g. Facebook) might be somewhat feasible, but most Russians are not as reckless as to face jailtime for posting something in opposition on social media. And unless you have really close friends there, it is hard to expect someone sticking their neck out for a near-stranger.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 20, 2022 at 11:43
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    Sorry but your answer is either naive or misguided, you cannot prove something that has not happened. The OP has not been accused of being a spy, there are background checks needed and maybe they did not want to perform them, the only thing that is a fact is that the contract was cancelled, you might want to fight that in courts, but it would take a lot of time/money and have very little chance of success.
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Oct 20, 2022 at 22:30
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    Sorry everyone, investigation may be a wrong word. I believe BAFA looked at my diplomas, transcripts, previous places of study, I don't think they looked at my social media accounts or something like that.
    – Evgenii
    Oct 21, 2022 at 11:12
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I've thought about my answer for a few days, it will probably be unpopular, but here goes: What did you do while in Russia to try and keep the peace? What did you do when your country just annexed a piece of another country (the Crimean peninsula) in 2014? I assume you were "just" a student. But the country you are apparently from is an aggressor that is waging war on the civilians of the Ukraine. Germany has given many Ukranians refugee status. You left, because the sanctions are making life in Russia uncomfortable, and you were perhaps (rightly) worried that you could be conscripted into the army.

You were probably promised the position by a professor who had not checked with the university administration that new hires of Russian nationals are no longer permitted. There will be nothing much you can do about that. Russians who are already here and have jobs can, naturally, keep those jobs. Your visa was probably contingent on you getting a job here. Since the job has disappeared, that may mean that you need to apply for refugee status, and you should have done that as soon as it was clear that you were not getting the job. As a refugee applicant, you will not be permitted to work until your status is approved. If you are found not to be a refugee, you will be sent back to Russia, or given the status of 'Duldung', being tolerated, because there is currently no air traffic between Germany and Russia. You should contact a lawyer.

The nice world that we used to have with exchange of researchers and free movement pretty much everywhere has been drastically changed by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

Here are some links that might help you. If you don't read German, DeepL is your friend.

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    You incorrectly assume that "new hires of Russian nationals are no longer permitted", this is is not correct. At some institutions a background check must be performed and it is very likely the institute did not want to do it. It is a matter of time/resources, not a blanket ban as you imply.
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Oct 20, 2022 at 22:36
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    "You left, because the sanctions are making life in Russia uncomfortable" is a little loaded, too - spring is about as early as it gets for fleeing. With the Russian government dispensing their pots of gold (which would be way better spent on developing the economy instead of waging wars, but alas), sanctions are hardly what makes the life in Russia uncomfortable even now: it is domestic policies. OP would likely have better life prospects in Russia if we are talking wealth and goods strictly and ignore the issue of personal freedoms.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 21, 2022 at 5:51
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    People often draw parallels with German scientists fleeing in WWII - they had to make concessions, but they were able to put their skills towards what they believed to be a just cause and, eventually, live decent lives. It makes sense to not welcome them with the open arms and present with offers as good as if nothing happened, but you also certainly want to avoid not providing any viable alternative at all and make them go home disappointed and thinking "I guess my government was right all along after all, I should go work for them instead".
    – Lodinn
    Oct 21, 2022 at 5:56
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    You trying to tie me with my government actions, where it is not really a government but just a mod of thieves and murderers. Actually, what are you doing right now, when your government keep buying gas and oil from the aggressor? Please, your are not the judge and I am not in the court.
    – Evgenii
    Oct 21, 2022 at 9:57
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    "You left, because the sanctions are making life in Russia uncomfortable, and you were perhaps (rightly) worried that you could be conscripted into the army." You don't know why I left. Staying in the country where police stopping young people and checking their phone on the matter of antiwar information and only for repost of oppositional views you could be in jail. Also I am ethnic Ukrainian and I don't want to know if putin will start a with hunt, like hitler did with Israelites.
    – Evgenii
    Oct 21, 2022 at 9:59

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