Baku, May 20 – The Russian government’s effort to limit the impact of immigrants on Russian life by establishing annual quotas for them is collapsing in the face of demands by Russian firms for more workers, an indication of that country’s deepening demographic problems and a harbinger of more social, economic and political tensions ahead.
Last week, the Federal Migration Service announced that Moscow and several other regions had already – in less than five months -- used up their immigrant quotas for 2008 and were demanding that the government boost these quotas so that firms there can fill the ranks of their employees (vremya.ru/2008/82/51/203808.html).
According to the FMS, the following regions have exhausted their immigrant quotas as set last year: Primorskiy kray, Murmansk oblast, the Sakha Republic, Transbaikal, Khabarovskiy kray, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. The city of Moscow, which is the “main consumer of foreign labor force,” has also reached its quota. At least three other regions are near that point.
When the Russian government set the quotas last year on the basis of a limit on the total number of Gastarbeiters of six million, many Russians were pleased to view this as the beginning of the end of what they believed was an uncontrolled influx of outsiders, and the expert community told the regime that the quota of 2.3 million for 2008 would “not be exhausted.”
Indeed, both officials and experts thought they had built in a margin for era by establishing an initial quota of two million and then raising it by 30 percent, government sources told Vremya novostei.
But “the mass legalization of Gastarbeiters” exceeded the capacity of the government to act and the “mathematical abilities of the bureaucrats, as it quickly became obvious that rapidly growing Russian businesses needed more immigrants because of the nearly one million decline in the number of working age Russian citizens over the past year.
In January, FMS chief Konstantin Romodanovsky publicly declared that “the quota can and must be increased” to meet the needs of business, but in advance of the presidential election, nothing was done in that regard, perhaps to avoid offending those Russians who might be animated by anti-immigrant sentiments to vote against Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor.
And now officials say that there is no possibility of changing the quotas even in response to that, something that has infuriated the business community and led academic experts like Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, the head of the migration laboratory at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Economic Prognostication, to predict disaster.
Small businessmen are especially angry because unlike the owners of larger firms they have much more difficulty in showing why they need the work of migrants or gaining special access to officials. But there are a lot of them, and they are beginning to act collectively through the All-Russian Organization of Small and Mid-Sized Entrepreneurs.
Zayonchkovskaya, for her part, noted that the government’s quotas are having the effect of driving ever more immigrants to work illegally, precisely the opposite of what officials said this system would do and one that creates tensions with legal workers, who see their incomes undercut by illegals who cannot afford to object to low pay and other forms of mistreatment.
And their anger is leading at least some of them to support xenophobic and anti-migrant groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). Indeed, its reading of the government’s likely waffling on the number of migrants not only helps to explain why it is happening but also why many Russians are angry.
In a commentary on the report in Vremya novostei, DPNI’s leadership said that “now it has become clear that quotas are a fiction” and that the government “will increase them in response to” pressure from business interests, even before it eliminates the quota system entirely which is what some firms are demanding (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/8630/).
“In this way,” the DPNI leadership said, “masses of immigrants will be introduced into the country who will agree to work for pennies and for a place to sleep in a dirty basement. It is possible that the powers that be hope that the indigenous residents of Russia will sometime agree to work in similar conditions. Apparently, everything is going in that direction.”