The backbone of the economy: Why labor migrants have not left Russia

By 2024, Russia plans to attract up to 5 mio migrants to the construction industry alone. The Ministry of the Interior is also preparing a bill approving a simplified hiring system for foreign workers and a simplified procedure to apply for Russian citizenship. Experts from the Eurasia Center for Assistance in Resolving Labor Disputes explain why labor migrants are such a valuable resource for Russia in the article below.

Alexey Maishev / RIA Novosti

The pandemic or the special military operation have not reduced labor migration

Labor migration is a global process; by the beginning of the pandemic, the world had about 160 mio migrants. Russia had 5.5 mio after a one-third rise compared to 2015. About 6 mio people come to Russia every year to make money.

Unfortunately, Russia mostly gets unskilled personnel. About half of them have finished school, while about 15% never made it. Such workers are employed in places where skills can be learned in the process of working – construction, housing and utilities services, transport, and partially, trade and catering. Anyone who wants to do better should try to get an education as well as Russian citizenship.

During the past two pandemic years, when Russia restricted inbound travel, the flow of labor migrants decreased by half. As expected, that caused a deficit in the labor market. In 2021, the shortage of construction personnel was estimated at 50%. At the same time, the staff shortage businesses are complaining about goes hand in hand with mounting unemployment.

Russians do not at all seem keen on grabbing the niches vacated by labor migrants, although some of the positions offer as much as 80,000 to 100,000 rubles (roughly $1.3K-$1.6K) a month. Admittedly, these earnings heavily depend on the number of actual working hours per month.

With the critical shortage of candidates, developers began to offer higher wages. But even this failed to attract Russian school-leavers to construction projects. Instead, it resulted in a bizarre situation where, despite a solid market demand and decent wages, there are still very few people who want the jobs. Russians en masse continue to seek positions as managers, not blue-collar workers. The challenging setting of construction sites also affects their choice. Apparently, few are willing to trade their comfort for a higher income. In this respect, migrants who are ready to do any labor remain beyond competition. However, they are no longer enough, even though the inflow of migrants is gradually recovering.

Most residents of neighboring states are perfectly aware that Russia is the only place where they can make enough money to buy a house and provide for the family without any degree.

Why does Russia need migrants?

The construction sector is among the industries with the highest demand for foreign workforce, but it is not the only one. The housing and utilities sector also wants labor migrants, and agriculture demands more and more – there are too few Russian hands for seasonal work. The industry actually needs more than 100,000 people.

As we said above, on the one hand, Russians do not want to take the same jobs as migrants because of their unpopularity in society and difficult working conditions – even though their average income would exceed the earnings of a middle manager in an office setting.

On the other hand, there are simply not enough Russians to fill those positions. With the downward demographic trends persisting for more than 30 years, the situation is unlikely to be corrected in the next 5-10 years.

Migrants living in Russia actually have an overall positive effect on the economy because they spend money inside the country – they rent housing, pay for travel, and buy food in stores.

Simplified naturalization procedure

There are legislative measures that can be taken to attract migrants to Russia, and simplifying the procedures to apply for citizenship is one of them. The Ministry of the Interior is drafting a bill that would do this. In particular, the process of filing documents will be accelerated when applications will be filed online. In addition, temporary residence permits will be abolished, while migrants will be able to apply for a residence permit right away. This should increase the level of social protection of foreigners in Russia.

As for the popular belief that immigration from the former Soviet republics increase crime rates, the statistics of law enforcement agencies suggests otherwise. Those who came to the country to work on a legal basis will most definitely not get involved in crime out of concern to lose the job. Foreigners who commit crimes and who are involved in criminal groups most often are illegal immigrants.

It is hardly possible that Russia can completely cover its demand in workforce using only Russian nationals in the next 20 years due to the low prestige jobs that are traditionally taken by migrants, and due to the demographic crisis of the 1990s whose consequences are still being felt. Labor migration must be comfortable and safe, experts believe. Protecting the interests of those who come to Russia for a better life, providing them with the opportunity to learn the language for free, simplifying the procedure to receive residence permit and citizenship are among the potential ways to attract more migrants who would support the country’s economy.

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