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Analysis & Opinion
15.06.10 Moving For Earnings
By Svetlana Kononova

The population of Russia could decrease by 20 million people by 2025, leading to a dramatic reduction in the work force, experts say. This means that the country needs to attract between 15 and 35 million foreigners to compensate for the shortage of local workers. Despite the current bureaucratic procedure of obtaining work permits and the difficulties of adapting to a new life, foreign migrants tend to be more prepared to travel than the locals, who are usually not interested in moving for a job.

Recent surveys show that from ten to 15 million foreign migrants work in Russia. Only ten percent of them are registered with the Federal Migration Service -- the majority still work illegally without any rights or social guarantees. “In the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union many highly skilled, educated migrants from the former Soviet republics received a chance to move to Russia and build successful careers while new job markets were rapidly developing. Now most of them have completely assimilated into the country. However, the situation changed after the crisis in 1998,” said Anna Silina, the country director for Russia at the Ancor recruitment agency. “The gap in job opportunities and salaries between Russia and the former Soviet republics, especially Central Asian countries, has become very deep. As a result, many residents of these countries, including people with university degrees, were forced to do low-paid, unskilled work and live illegally in Russia to support themselves and their families financially. Unfortunately, this trend turned out to be long-term,” she added.

Nowadays the main migration flows to Russia are from the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), whose residents are usually fluent in Russian and do not consider Russia as “overseas.”

Russia’s top sources of cheap workers who are ready to do any unskilled job are Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which are responsible for 52 percent and 22 percent of foreign migrants, respectively. Six percent of migrant laborers have moved to Russia from Moldova. They are also generally badly paid. Most migrants from Central Asian countries and Moldova work in the construction sector, manufacturing, cleaning, housing and public utilities. Thirteen percent of foreign migrants have Ukrainian citizenship, and seven percent have arrived from Belarus. Many people from these countries work in retail, hospitality and personal services. There is also a growing stream of immigrants from China and Vietnam, job market experts say. Migrants from these countries mostly work in factories and trade.

The most attractive destinations for foreign migrants are Moscow, the Moscow Region and St. Petersburg. The second most popular destinations for migrants are big manufacturing towns whose economies are slowly recovering from the crisis and need extra labor. Many migrants have worse employment terms and working conditions than their Russian colleagues because of their illegal status. “Many employers simply cannot be bothered and don’t want to spend the money to register foreign workers officially, although the law allows them to,” Silina said.

Aleksey Zakharov, the chief executive of the SuperJob.ru Internet portal, agreed. “In many cases it is cheaper for Russian employers to hire foreigners than Russians,” he said. However, the stereotype of foreigners as cheap, unskilled employees can be misleading. “Migration processes are characteristic for workers of all qualification levels,” Zakharov said. “While blue-collar workers move to Russia because it has a ‘healthier’ economy in comparison with other CIS countries and gives the opportunity for quite high earnings, top managers from around the world consider Russia a developing country where they can improve themselves and learn how to solve unconventional tasks.”

“Top managements is an international notion,” he added. “The higher the level of skills and qualifications a top manager has, the freer he is with his choices of geographical destinations and where to work.” “A recent trend is the huge interest that residents of developed countries such as the EU, the United States and Canada are showing in working in Russia,” Silina said. “The first explosion of such interest was notable after the Soviet Union collapsed, and now we can see a repeat of this situation. It might be caused by the difficult conditions on the world job marked because of the global economical crisis.”

While foreigners readily move to Russia for better salaries and job opportunities, Russians themselves have a much more conservative approach toward economic migration. Data from SuperJob.ru shows that only 17 percent of candidates are interested in job offers from companies located in other cities and regions, and more than a half of those are skilled laborers such as welders.

Just 12 percent of those who ready to move to other cities for work are interested in middle or top-level management. The others are lower-level white-collar workers.

Taking into account that people who use Internet sites like SuperJob to find work are usually more economically active, educated and skilled than the rest of the labor force, it is likely that even these paltry figures are inflated.

While the average American moves from seven to ten times during his lifetime, the average Russian moves only once, statistics show. A recent survey put current internal migration on the same level as it was in 19th century despite the growth in population. The main destination for internal migration has not changed since the 1990s: people move from rural areas and small towns to big cities. Most migrants are young people who leave home because of the gap in incomes and living standards between Moscow, St. Petersburg and one or two other big cities and the rest of Russia. They hope to improve their standard of living through employment or business activity.

However, big economic projects have a huge influence on internal migration patterns, experts say. Firstly, the job market growth is likely to continue in the nearest future in the Far East. Preparations for the 2012 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok include road building and infrastructure projects that involve many internal migrants. “These projects could have a long-term influence on economic migration in Far East and Siberia,” Silina said.

Secondly, preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in are also impacting internal labor migration in Russia. A wealth of new jobs in building and the hospitality sectors is attracting many skilled professionals from others parts of the country. It is expected that some foreign workers will be involved in the Sochi projects as well.

The future of labor migration in Russia depends on recent governmental initiatives to simplify registration rules for both internal and external migrants, and eventual legalization of foreign workers, experts believe. “If these programs and legal changes work successfully, the number of migrants could multiply,” Silina said. “However, in fact migration patterns are expected to stay the same in the next several years.”
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