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Thousands of Russia’s labour migrants are packing bags

On my way to work the other day I overheard a telling dialogue between two guest workers: the share taxi’s driver (judging by his appearance, an ethnic Tajik), and one of his passengers (obviously a guest from Armenia).

MOSCOW, January 13. /TASS/. On my way to work the other day I overheard a telling dialogue between two guest workers: the share taxi’s driver (judging by his appearance, an ethnic Tajik), and one of his passengers (obviously a guest from Armenia). Both were speaking fluent Russian.

“I’m leaving,” the Tajik driver said. “The kind of money I am making these days I will be able to earn at home just as easy.”

“Me, too,” the Armenian passenger replied. “The more so, since now you’ve got to buy a license to get a job.”

The ruble’s 50% slump and latest measures to tighten migration legislation have succeeded there where the most ardent xenophobes had repeatedly failed. Guest workers have begun to flee Russia. Back last year the representatives of ethnic communities repeatedly warned that even an exchange rate of 45-50 rubles per dollar was unacceptable for most labour migrants. At the moment one dollar is traded for 65 rubles.

In the first days of January the influx of guest workers dwindled by 70% in contrast to that in the same period of a year ago, the chief of Russia’s Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, said on the Rossiya-24 round-the-clock news channel. According to the official, the overall number of migrants from Central Asia is declining.

“The economy is one of the factors. The other is we have restored order to the rules of presence in Russia,” Romodanovsky said. In the meantime, the number of migrants from neighbouring Ukraine and from Moldova has been on the rise, he added.

Labour migrants — are they an evil or a blessing? This is a question Russians have been asking themselves ever more often of late, as crowds of guest workers have been leaving for home. On the one hand, many Russians still have a rather strong xenophobic sentiment, fuelled with media reports of high level of migration-related crime. On the other, many Muscovites are already complaining that the removal of snow from the city streets in the first days of the new year leaves much to be desired.

“Since January 1 five migrant workers have quit their jobs of their own accord,” a man who identified himself as Irakly, a restaurant owner in St. Petersburg, complained on the Ekho Moskvy radio station. “No Russian is eager to do the dishes. I just don’t know how go about this business.”

With the beginning of 2015 migrants have found it far more difficult to get employment in Russia. Instead of quotas for migrant workers the authorities have introduced a system of licenses that will have to be paid for not by the employees, but by the guest workers themselves. Under the newly-effective rule each new arrival is obliged to apply to the Federal Migration Service for an employment license within a 30-day deadline. Also, guest workers will have to acquire a voluntary medical insurance policy for the whole period the employment license will be effective, certificates testifying the Russian language, history and legislation tests have been successfully passed. Also, starting from January 1 all CIS citizens will be able to enter Russia only upon the presentation of a foreign travel passport. Exceptions are made for the countries affiliated with the Eurasian Economic Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia, as well as Kyrgyzstan, which hopes to join the EEU later this year.

The local authorities are free to decide how much to charge for an employment license. In Moscow it may cost 4,000 rubles, which, according to migrants’ own calculations implies a monthly pay of more than 30,000 rubles. Wages that big exist only in the building industry. The average pay in the housing and utilities sector is far smaller.

Punishments for abusing the migration rules have been tightened since January 10. Those who stay in Russia for more than 120 days without the proper legal formalities accomplished would entail an automatic entry ban for three years. Those who have been present in Russian territory illegally for more than 270 days can forget about coming to Russia again for the next five years, and illegal stay for 360 days and more will be punishable with a ten year entry ban.

Romodanovsky said the number of migrants who are present in Russia legally and  that of illegal workers are now approximately equal. He estimates that per 2.7 million legal guests there are about 2.9 million illegal ones.

Experts believe that the measures to tighten legislation are ill-timed and the Russian economy should brace for a heavy blow.

The economic situation as it is, Russia these days needs migrants more than before, says the head of the Civil Assistance committee, Svetlana Gannushkina. “We can no longer afford to pay foreigners lucrative wages to keep them here. The guest workers are leaving. In the meantime, Russia has been tightening laws,” the daily Novyie Izvestia quotes Gannushkina as saying.

Harsher migration rules will yield no benefits, warns the president of the Migration 21st Century foundation, Vyacheslav Postavnin. “It will merely push up the number of illegal migrants and fuel corruption,” says Postavnin.

“At a time when migrants were arriving in uncontrolled flows such steps to tighten migration legislation would have been quite reasonable, but today’s situation is very different,” senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of the National Economy and Public Administration, Tatyana Ilarionova, has told TASS.

“The ruble’s fall makes it still worse. Migrants feel that having a job in Russia is fraught with too many risks. But over the past fifteen years these people have managed to get blended into our economic landscape. Such industries as construction, retail trade, the services, and the housing and utilities sector will begin to experience problems. Naturally, this is very bad for the economy.”

The events in the south-east of Ukraine have pushed up the influx of Ukrainian migrants, but they are very unlikely to take the niche vacated by leaving guest workers from Central Asia and do the jobs in the building industry, the housing and utilities sector or to seek fortune in Siberia or the Far East,” Ilarionova said.


TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors