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Analysis & Opinion
20.09.10 Greener Pastures
By Svetlana Kononova

Most well educated and wealthy Russians would like to emigrate, a poll conducted by the SuperJob.ru online research center found. Seventy-three percent of respondents said that, given the opportunity, they would prefer to live in a foreign country. But the number of people actually planning to move abroad is much smaller: only 18 percent of respondents said they have applied for long-term visas or put together emigration documents. Among them, the most popular destinations are EU countries, the United States, Canada and Australia.

Most respondents said they would take up a job offer from a foreign employer if the proposed salary was higher than at home. But the youngest respondents said they would like to work abroad irrespective of the income – to get new experience and learn a foreign language. The typical reasons cited by those wanting to live and work aboard were the following: “good workers are valued more aboard than in Russia,” “I want to live in a country where people are protected by the law,” and “Russia is a wonderful country, but in an awful state.”

The poll revealed another trend: the more money people earn, the more they tend to look for opportunities to live and work abroad. The desire to emigrate also depends on the age of the respondent: professionals aged 20 to 40 are the most interested in leaving Russia. Workers over 50 are much more conservative and don’t want to take risks. Those who do not plan to emigrate cited the following reasons: lack of money, poor knowledge of foreign languages and “inappropriate age.” They said that “life abroad might be worse than in Russia” and “nobody needs us in foreign countries.”

So why aren’t the most educated and well-off Russians happy living and working at home? “From my point of view this is related to politics. Modern Russian authorities have not created any favorable conditions for the establishment of talented people’s careers in the country,” said Danil Smirnov, the head of EduAbroad.ru. “Rampant corruption and incompetence in the country make it difficult to get worthy returns on investments in education and career development. Most graduates of even leading Russian universities can’t find good jobs that fit their qualification without friends in the right places.”

Aleksey Zakharov, the chief executive of SuperJob.ru, assessed the emigration trends in stricter terms: “Economic globalization dissolves geographic boundaries of job markets. In most cases, Russian professionals who want to gain work experience abroad for their future career growth move to foreign countries,” he said. According to Zakharov, Russian professionals have a huge interest in working abroad. Many foreign companies use SuperJob.ru to find personnel in Russia. However, not all candidates stand a chance of getting a job offer from a foreign employer.
“Two groups of Russians have real chances of working abroad,” Zakharov said. “One group is unskilled staff, such as waiters, cleaners and temporary agricultural workers. The second group is high-qualified professionals – scientists, programmers and people who have rare professions and special skill sets. People from this group have good prospects for career growth and high salaries abroad. But average Russian employees have more prospects at home.”

But Smirnov believes that higher education abroad can open the door to western countries for all talented youngsters regardless of profession. “Obviously, bachelor’s or master’s degrees awarded by Western universities give graduates good prospects for working and living in Western countries,” he said. “Studying abroad is an investment and it should return a profit. Recent research shows that engineers who work in oil, gas, and aviation have the highest salaries, while work with children and social services is valued less. But in any case, a Western education will pay for itself.”

In many cases foreign students have the opportunity of remaining abroad after graduation. For example, foreign graduates from British universities can apply for a two-year post-study work visa. The United States has a one-year internship program, and similar programs exist in other countries that are popular with Russian students. “A couple of years are enough to find an employer in the country where one studied or in another country, by sending your CV to international recruitment agencies. Unlike in Russia, personal connections do not play a main role when building a career in a free and competitive job market abroad,” Smirnov said.

But not all Russians want to emigrate to work in other countries. Some just prefer to spend abroad the money that they make at home. Wealthy Russians still consider buying real estate abroad as the best investment. George Shishkovsky, the managing director at the LondonDom.com real estate agency, which specializes in UK real estate, said that Russian clients’ interest in buying flats and houses in London has grown over the last six months. “The currency exchange rate has changed, British pounds have become cheaper. Moreover, real estate prices have stabilized. Now there are more flats and houses for sale than during the crisis. As a result, the number of deals with customers from Russia and the former Soviet republics has grown by ten to 15 percent,” Shishkovsky said.

Middle-class customers show huge interest in buying real estate in Turkey, Bulgaria and Montenegro: a mild climate and affordable prices (?200,000 to ?400,000) make these countries very popular. But surprisingly, most of those who own property abroad do not plan to leave Russia forever. “No more than ten percent of our customers move to London after buying real estate,” Shishkovsky said. “Most Russian buyers have other goals. Some clients rent their houses and flats out. Others buy real estate for children who study in the UK. And some just need a place to stay when they go shopping in London.”
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