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Russia: Moscow Tightens Rules for Labor Migrants

Russia is suffering from a labor shortage. But President Vladimir Putin, in a move that satisfies his Russian nationalist base, has approved measures that make it more difficult for prospective labor migrants from CIS states, Central Asia in particular, to find work legally in Russia.

Putin signed off on June 13 on a revised State Migration Policy that raises the bar for foreigners wishing to work in Russia. To qualify under the new rules, foreigners will now have to pass exams on a variety of topics, including proficiency in Russian language and history.

Russian migration agencies were instructed by Putin to develop the specifics of the plan, including the actual tests, by November 2012. White-collar professionals, as well as those with new-economy skills, such as computer programming, are exempt from the tests.

The new requirements, if enforced, could have a severe economic impact on some Central Asian states, which each year send hundreds of thousands of largely unskilled workers to work in Russia in construction and other low-wage sectors. Some Central Asian nations, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in particular, are increasingly dependent on cash remittances sent home by labor migrants. Many of those now heading to Russia from Central Asia to work have poor Russian-language skills. The new rules, while certain to soothe nationalists, would seem to damage Russian national interests. Russia is currently grappling with a labor shortage, which is likely to become more severe in the coming decades due to the country’s unfavorable demographics. If anything, Russia should be taking steps to attract more legal labor migrants. Currently, the number of foreigners that can legally work in Russia is limited to 2 million people, while there are an estimated 2.3 million jobs that need to be filled. Discussion about raising the quota, or even lifting it altogether, is making slow progress. The current labor gap creates a lot of space for illegal migration.

While perhaps flawed, Russian experts contend that the changes authorized by Putin mark a step forward on migration management. The new migration concept at least shows that officials “agree that migration is a really topical issue,” Vyacheslav Postavnin, president of the “Migration XXI century” foundation and former deputy director of Russia’s Federal Migration Service (2005-2008), commented to EurasiaNet.org.

Postavnin highlighted several shortcomings in the plan that could hamper chances it will be effective, including a lack of hard data on current migration trends, and reliable evaluations on the capacity of migration-management agencies in Russia.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta cited a top Federal Migration Service official, Konstantin Romodanovsky, as saying illegal labor migrants who are caught will be prohibited from entering Russia for at least five years. He also said additional steps to identify and detain those trying to work in Russia illegally will be implemented, including placing security monitors on trains, especially those with foreign train crews, traveling between Russia and Central Asian states.

Not all the measures under consideration will make it tougher on labor migrants. The Moscow City Council, for example, is discussing establishing a legislative framework to punish companies that do not ensure safe working and housing environments.

Evgeny Kuzmin is an editorial associate at EurasiaNet. Larisa Kosygina provided reporting for this article.

Russia: Moscow Tightens Rules for Labor Migrants

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