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July 2006 Volume 13 Number 3

Russia: CIS Migrants


There are about 10 illegal foreign workers in Russia for every legal migrant. Russia had about 460,000 legal foreign workers in 2004, including 48 percent from Commonwealth of Independent States countries, the ex-USSR countries that range from Armenia to Uzbekistan. A tenth of the six million Tajiks are believed to be working illegally in Russia.

Both the legal and unauthorized foreigners are mostly men, and tend to work in construction, services such as street markets and agriculture.

Nationals of CIS countries can travel to Russia without visas, but cannot get work permits to be employed legally unless they register with local authorities within three days. In order to register, they need a fixed address, which can be hard to obtain since there is little rental housing available, and registering too many persons at one residence brings inspectors (Russia requires citizens and foreigners to register at their place of permanent residence as well as where they are staying temporarily). Thus, migrants from Armenia, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Ukraine, and the Central Asian countries enter Russia legally, but are subject to police harassment because they do not have work or residence documents.

Surveys find that migrants tend to dominate the occupations in which they are employed, such as construction in Moscow. Many employers of migrants operate in the underground economy, which may be 20 to 25 percent of Russian GDP. Since most migrants are not legally registered, they are not entitled to minimum wages or work-related benefits. Instead, many work long hours for low pay, which puts more jobs into migrant hands in a "race to the bottom."

On July 25, 2002, Russia enacted a new law to legalize foreign workers or remove them. The key was a migration card, which migrants were to have to work legally in Russia, and a crack down on employers who hire illegal foreign workers. However, enforcement of the new law has been uneven, in part because some employers may go out of business without migrants, reducing jobs for Russians as well. For this reason, some Russians say that legalizing migrants and bringing the informal economy out of the shadows should be done simultaneously.

Russia allows foreigners in the country continuously for five years after receiving a permanent residence permit to naturalize, and 4.8 million did so between 1992 and 2004. However, there are one to two million foreigners who have been in Russia at least five years but cannot naturalize because they were not registered, so their years of residence did not count.

Russia-CIS. Demographer Sergei Ryazancev estimated there were a total of 8.2 to 10.8 million CIS migrants abroad in 2004, including two to three million Ukrainian migrants, one to 1.5 million Azeris and one to 1.2 million Russians. The labor force of the CIS countries was 133 million in 2004, suggesting that migrants were equivalent to six to eight percent of the labor force.

Armenia has the highest share of its workers abroad- perhaps 700,000 in a labor force of 1.2 million; followed by Moldova, 700,000 migrants in a labor force of 1.5 million; Azerbaijan, up to 1.5 million migrants in a labor force of 3.8 million; Kyrgyzstan, 700,000 migrants in a labor force of 2.1 million; and Tajikistan, 600,000 migrants in a labor force of two million.

Russia sent the fewest migrants abroad and received the most from other CIS countries: up to 1.2 million Russians are abroad in a labor force of 73 million, but most of the migrants from Russia's CIS neighbors head to Russia. Ryazancev estimated that five million of the CIS migrants in Russia are illegal, while Russia's Federal Migration Service estimates 10 million illegal migrants. Between September 22 and December 1, 2005 the FMS legalized 7,500 migrants in ten of Russia's 89 regions.

Russia is richer than the migrants' countries of origin. Perhaps half of Moscow's construction workers are migrants from other CIS countries, and migrants are often the mainstay of the labor force in outdoor markets and in restaurants. For example, virtually all Tajiks who migrate move to Russia, and far fewer to the second-richest CIS country, Kazakhstan. Wages in Tajikistan averaged $22 a month, less than 10 percent of average wages in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Interviews with Tajik migrants in Russia found two-thirds were illegal, which makes them vulnerable to police harassment. Most Tajik migrants are employed in construction and paid cash wages (avoiding the minimum 30 percent income tax), working 10 or more hours a day and send about $100 a month to their families. Many Tajiks buy false documents, and some seek work in day labor markets. A million Tajiks, 40 percent of the work force, may be abroad, and their $800 million a year in remittances are double the government's budget.

There is specialization in migrant employment in Russia by country of origin, with Ukrainians and Moldavians employed in construction and transport and the Chinese in trade or agriculture. Over 80 percent of the migrants in Russia are men, and half are aged 30 to 29. On February 23, 2006, a roof collapsed at the Basmanny market in Moscow, killing 68 mostly migrant traders from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Emigration. Russia is a country of 144 million with a labor force of 70 million, but the population has been shrinking by 700,000 a year; it was 149 million in 1992. In May 2006, President Vladimir V. Putin announced plans to encourage births by giving cash grants of up to $9,200 to mothers on the birth of a second child, extending maternity leave benefits, and offering day-care subsidies to women with more children. With the average salary in Moscow about $150 a month, this is a significant economic fertility incentive.

About 50,000 Russians emigrate every year via official channels, mostly as artists and seamen, but another 450,000 leave unofficially as tourists to work abroad. Russia has over 600 licensed recruiters, a third in Moscow, and labor agreements with Germany, Finland, Switzerland and other countries. Many of those who go abroad with licensed agencies report that they leave with tourist visas.

Russians are the largest group of foreigners living in Finland: 25,000 of the 113,800 total. 2.2 percent of Finland's residents are foreign.
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