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October 2012, Volume 19, Number 4

Denmark, Sweden, Russia

Denmark. Denmark has high income taxes and high barriers to immigrants. About 6.2 percent of Danish residents are immigrants, compared with an average 6.6 percent in the EU-27 nations. The anti-immigration Danish People's Party, the country's third largest, has pushed for policies to restrict immigration. Opinion polls suggest that 70 percent of Danes want very restrictive immigration policies.

The center-left coalition government in power since 2011 is trying to open more doors to skilled non-EU foreigners. The Labor Ministry wants to reduce the current minimum salary requirement of $63,000 a year to a level closer to Sweden's $23,000, which would allow more Danish employers to obtain work permits for non-EU foreign workers. About 3,000 non-EU foreign skilled workers receive work permits each year.

Sweden. Sweden in 2008 adopted an employer-led migrant worker program, allowing employers easy access to foreign workers. The Migration Board makes decisions on whether the foreigners requested by Swedish employers should be issued without obtaining an opinion from unions.

Many of those arriving to work are low-skilled workers who pick berries in forests under piece-rate wages for firms that buy and process them. Many migrant pickers earned high wages in 2011, making it easy to recruit berry pickers for the 2012 season, when yields were low.

In July 2012, residents of the Gavle area complained that hundreds of Bulgarian pickers who camped nearby were stealing from local gardens. The Bulgarians, who apparently paid fees to brokers to get to Sweden, were being returned by bus to Bulgaria after they complained that they could not earn enough money in Sweden. Some Bulgarians said their piece rate was reduced from 25 kroner ($3.70) per kilo in 2011 to 12 kroner per kilo in 2012. Wild blueberries are often sold on the street for 25 kroner for 150 grams.

The Swedish government promised new regulations on foreign recruitment agencies before the 2013 season.

Russia. Beginning in January 2013, foreign migrants must pass a Russian language test in order to get a work permit. According to the Federal Migration Service, about 14 million foreigners a year enter the country, including a third to seek jobs. Many are from ex-USSR countries.

The governor of Russia's Krasnodar region, where the 2014 winter Olympics will be held, announced in August 2012 that 1,000 Cossacks would be hired as an auxiliary police force to prevent the in-migration of darker-skinned Muslims from the North Caucasus. Governor Aleksandr Tkachev noted that the Cossacks, whose ancestors served the czars, can act beyond the law to "demand paperwork and enforce migration policies." Tkachev predicted that, if too many Muslims moved into Krasnodar, there would be inter-ethnic conflict "as in Albania."

There are tensions over internal migration in Russia, as migrants from the poorer Caucasus region seek opportunity in Moscow and other areas of Russia. Migrants are expected to be drawn to Krasnodar because up to $30 billion may be spent on the 2014 winter Olympics.

Georgia. Georgians in elections October 1, 2012 gave a parliamentary majority to the opponents of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili came to power in the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003, cleaned up the corrupt police force, and put the economy on a market-led track. Most Georgians acknowledge that there is less bribery and crime under Saakashvili's government.

However, challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition reminded voters that unemployment in cities is 25 percent or more, and that up to a fourth of the 4.5 million Georgians are abroad because there are few jobs at home. Just before the elections, videos of prison guards sodomizing prisoners with objects like a broom and a truncheon highlighted the quadrupling of prisoners under the Saakashvili government's crackdown on crime and petty corruption.

"Berrypickers, unite!," The Economist, August 4, 2012.