Regional Mobility Trends: Russia and the CIS

Russia’s economy, although not fully recovered since 2014, continues to outperform the stagnant regions from which a largely under-qualified young male workforce pours in. This influx of foreign workers, in turn, has proved critical to maintaining economic productivity in the face of high emigrant outflows.

Russia’s pivotal position in Central Eurasia, its comparatively lenient migration laws, and, frequently, the absence of a language barrier virtually guarantee that Russia will remain the largest migrant recipient in 2019 for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Ukraine, as well as a popular destination for Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, North Korean, and Turkish workers.

Despite a downward trend in migrant inflows, between January and September 2018 Russia received over 3.4 million Uzbeks, 1.7 million Tajiks, 347,000 Ukrainians, and almost 250,000 Kyrgyz, with migrants from other regions falling far behind these numbers.

Nearly half of Russia’s estimated 10–12 million migrants are illegal. Registration procedures for foreigners were tightened as of 31 December 2017, with the federal authorities intensifying the punishment for employing illegals. To allay widespread fears about migrants’ monopolizing and criminalizing of certain industries, regions were allowed to set their own quotas for employing migrants in certain industries (public transport, security, pharmaceutical, and food). A CIS migration law that is currently in the works aims to regulate all aspects of migration.

The number of migrants pushed into Russia from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Syria by political distress or pro-native citizenship and language laws dropped to 13,200 in 2018. Since 2014, Russian professionals have been fleeing political and social stagnation in the wake of Putin’s three re-elections.

With Russia’s labor market poised to shrink even further in 2019, the need for migrant workers remains critical.

Russian media agencies regularly publish encouraging stories about Russian migrants worldwide. According to Russian statistics, about 60,000 Russians emigrate annually, but the data is unverifiable because Russians are not required to declare that they have emigrated. Besides, the issue is politically sensitive, as it is in Ukraine, where over one million people left the country each year between 2014 and 2017.

With Russia’s labor market poised to shrink even further in 2019, the need for migrant workers remains critical. The further aging of the Russian population without an ongoing influx of migrants may leave entire peripheral regions of the country depopulated. Migrants tend to flow to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities. According to the migration policy guidelines for 2019–2025, migrants will soon be directed to under-populated Siberian and Far Eastern regions, and governmental recruiting agencies in Central Asian states will have the mandate to prevent human rights abuses and tax fraud. Similarly, a socio-cultural assimilation program will facilitate foreign nationals’ integration into Russian society.

To encourage the inflow of qualified professionals, the process of obtaining Russian citizenship and work licenses is being eased. So far, this policy is working: although in 2018 fewer work permits were issued, the percentage of professionals among legal migrants increased.

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