With 12 million people migrating to Russia annually the country holds the second most popular migrant magnet destination title after United States (47 million) (UN, 2016). Russia sets apart from other migrant-receiving countries in terms of structure, profile and background of the migration influx to Russia. In usual cases, people migrate from developing to developed countries and often faced with social difficulties due to different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. However, in Russian case majority of the migrants come from CIS countries where migrants from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine consists the majority within this group. Meaning they are familiar with the host country language and culture in contrast with usual migration cases.
Moreover, pull factors such as visa-free entrance, higher salaries, familiar language and demand for labor migrants alongside with push factors like the high unemployment rate and low salaries in home countries has attracted many Central Asians to search better job opportunities in Russia. Furthermore, the structure of migration inflow is heavily circular rather than permanent one like in Europe where migrant workers often come to Russia for seasonal jobs. One of the main factors that carried Russia up in the ladders of becoming a migrant magnet country is the collapse of Soviet Union. What is used to be an internal migration between countries in the union after the dissolution of the Soviet Union turned into an international migration movement (Bisson, 2016).
All of these events have turned Russia into a new immigration country during the last two decade. The Russian government in 2012 with the declaration of the Concept of Migration Policy of the Russian Federation to 2025 has set major policy direction on the immigration issue. The concept has divided into 3 stages where the first stage covers the period of 2012-2015 years and includes particularly the development of necessary regulations and main directions of the implementation of the state policy that will allow the Russian government to achieve its predetermined goals. The second phase will cover the period of 2016-2020 years; this stage is about the implementation of the projects and regulations of the state migration policy. In the third stage between 2021-2025 years is about the analysis and evaluation of the direction and achievements of the state migration policy in order to assess its effectiveness in implementation and if necessary adopting corresponding adjustments for the programmes (Kremlin.ru, 2016).
With the concept, Russian government affirms that they need labor migrants for their economic and demographic needs and realize that they also need to develop their bureaucratic, living and working conditions to improve their attractiveness for highly skilled migrants (Bhavna, 2014). The concept prepared as an action plan to respond to the demographic and labor market challenges that Russia would encounter in near future. According to forecasts by Rosstat within 35 years, it is expected that Russian population will decrease by 20% (Aleksashenko, 2015). Therefore, in order to ease the potential negative consequences of forecasts Russian government has come with an action plan to attract both highly skilled and unskilled foreign workers according to the needs of the labor market. Regarding the unskilled migrant workers, there is not much problem in the migration flow and majority of the foreign workers are coming from Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) especially from Central Asia. In this case, difficulties usually occurs in the social sphere specifically their integration into society.
As for the highly skilled group, there have been a number of changes and improvements made in regulations in order to attract more highly skilled foreign workers to Russia. For instance, high skilled migrant workers are greatly benefitted from the bureaucratic liberalization of obtaining a work permit process. In previous quota system, migrant workers were dependent on companies to obtain a quota for them before arrival. Therefore, companies needed to apply for the quota to Ministry of Labor and Social Protection between 1 November and 1 May period (Bhavna, 2014). In practice usually, the small companies had difficulties in receiving a quota due to the fact that large portion of the quotas is distributed to the large firms (Bhavna, 2014). With the new patent system, they could obtain a work permit by buying a patent that costs around 56.000 ruble for a year (Hashimova, 2015).
Replacing patent system with a quota, on one hand, Russia is liberalized the bureaucracy of obtaining a work permit while on the other hand created a structure that will increase their revenues from selling patents and be able to filter the fluently Russian-speaking migrants. The purpose of putting a complex test is to accept migrant workers who are more literate in Russian language and integrated into the Russian culture. On this point, it is important to note that language is one of the main factors in social integration process into host society while among the current migration flow especially the youth Central Asian migrants the proficiency of Russian language is relatively poorer comparing with the previous one. Therefore, while accepting foreign migrant workers, Russian government pays attention to social integration process of migrants to society. In short, according to aims in the concept Russian government is trying to attract highly skilled migrant workers, second through complex test trying to select migrants who know Russian well enough so that their inclusion into society will be smooth if they choose to stay in Russia permanently.
When we look at the effects of the new changes in the law on migration in 2015, for highly skilled migrant workers a useful and beneficial adjustment could increase the attractiveness of Russian labor market in order to attract high skilled personnel to Russia. However, the desire to increase the income coming from selling work permit could be designed more carefully by taking into consideration of all worker groups average salaries. With the abolishment of the national level of work permit price (which was 1200 ruble for all regions) and allowing regional authorities to set their own price has increased the cost of obtaining a work permit in popular migrant worker destinations (Rus4all.ru, 2015).
For instance, the price of the work permit is increased to 4000 ruble in Moscow while this figure is jumped to 8000 ruble in Chukotka region (Rus4all.ru, 2015). On this point, it should also be mentioned that 25 regions has removed the price for a work permit to attract foreign migrant workers (Rus4all.ru, 2015). While average monthly salary of the unskilled migrant worker is around 30.000 ruble it is unfair for low paid migrant workers to lose their two-month salary (56.000 ruble is the necessary cost to obtain a work permit for one year) every year in order to work legally in Russia.
In conclusion, it could be said that in current situation unskilled migrant worker group is the biggest loser from the new changes since the increase in the price of work permit in combination with the sharp devaluation of ruble against dollar has significantly diminish their salaries. Forcing some to work illegally to save more and send more money to their families. In order to set a fair price for work permit, responsible authorities in the regions could arrange a different category like a low wages tariff for migrant workers whose monthly salary is less than the annual cost of obtaining a work permit. With such improvements, many low paid illegal labor migrants could be encouraged to work legally which would also increase the revenues from selling the patents since the number of buyers will increase.
Aleksashenko, S. (2015). The Russian economy in 2050: Heading for labor-based stagnation. Brookings Institution.
Bisson, L. (2016). Russia’s Immigration Policy: New Challenges and Tools. Institut Francais Des Relations Internationales Russia NIS Center.
Bhavna, D. (2014). Becoming “Legal” through “Illegal” Procedures: The Precarious Status of Migrant Workers in Russia Russian analytical digest No. 159.
Hashimova U. (2015). What 2015 is promising for labor migrants from Central Asia. Central Asia Policy Brief No.23. Central Asia Program.
Kremlin.ru (2016). Concept of the State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation through to 2025. Official Internet Resources of the President of Russia.
Rus4all.ru (2015). How much does the patent costs in regions of Russia. Russia for all.
United Nations (2016). International Migration Report 2015. United Nations.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Zhengizkhan Zhanaltay is a research fellow in the Eurasian Research Institute at H.A.Yassawi Kazakh Turkish International University. Zhengizkhan completed his bachelor’s degree at international relations department of KIMEP University in 2010. He completed his master thesis named ‘Oralmans integration into Kazakhstani Society: Turkish Kazakh Case’ in International Relations department of KIMEP University in 2014. His research interests include international migration politics, labor and ethnic migrants social and economic integration into society and remittance.