Vienna, December 16 – Over the last years, 440,000 “of the most intelligent, talented and entrepreneurial” Russians have left their country to live and work abroad, “a quiet emigration” that in the words of one Moscow commentator will make it far more difficult for Russia to emerge from its current economic and political difficulties.
While most people have been focused on the implications of the presence in Russian cities of millions of generally low-skilled immigrants from the former Soviet republics, Mikhail Delyagin notes, the emigration of such skilled Russians is “a catastrophe” just as it would be for any other country (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/color46/00.html).
The exact number of people involved, however, has been a matter of dispute: Some live in two countries commuting between them, while a smaller number have left and do not intend to return. But now, two investigators, Darya Pul’nova and Dmitry Skrylev, have assembled data showing that the phenomenon is far from trivial.
Official statistics, they say, understate what is going on. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) says that only six Russians left the country for permanent residence abroad over the last six months, a figure that Pul’nova and Skrylev note clearly does not include the 251 people from Russia who became citizens of the Netherlands alone during that period.
In addition to the desire of officials to understate the problem, another complication the two researchers point to is the fact that now most of those who leave nonetheless retain their Russian citizenship, either working abroad on visas or acquiring dual citizenship in one or another country.
According to the Russian Statistical Agency, 110,950 people left Russia for the “far abroad” – that is beyond the borders of the former Soviet republics and occupied Baltic states – over the last year. But the real figures if one takes into account dual citizenship as well, the two analysts say, could be two to three times greater.
The two offer the following figures for the ten countries to which Russians have migrated over the last four years: the United States (85,748), Germany (53,338), Canada (20,015), Greece (9,940), Spain (7,080), Italy (5,077), Norway (4,307), France (3,944), Great Britain (3,784), and Sweden (3,705).
Of those who have gone to live and work abroad, Pul’nova and Skrylev say, approximately 39 percent are specialists with higher education, of whom nine percent are engineers or technicians, eight percent are scholars, five percent are businessmen, and two percent are lawyers.
And those who have left for permanent work abroad give various reasons for doing so: 39 percent say they are seeking work and the achievement of their goals, 22 percent are refugees, 20 percent go to study, 15 percent to get married, with four percent giving a range of other responses to this question.
While large, the current outflow is actually not significantly greater than earlier: Between 1991 and 1996, they say, 429,548 Russians left; between 1997 and 2002, 207,447 did; and between 2003 and 2008, up to 440,000. The first three figures are official ones; the last is the estimate made by the two investigators.
In addition to pointing to the outflow of highly trained specialists, the two investigators note that up to 30 percent of those Russians who choose to study abroad do not return and that Russia is one of the world’s leaders in terms of the number of people to whom other countries have granted refugee status.
Some commentators are already calling this exodus “the fifth wave,” a reference to the earlier waves of emigration from the Soviet Union, and they are expressing concern that this latest brain drain will harm the country and its ability to cope with the challenges not only of the current economic crisis but also of future development.