Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis Costing Russia ‘Tens of Thousands’ of Managers and Entrepreneurs

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 10 – “Tens of thousands” of Russia’s managers and entrepreneurs are now seeking employment abroad, a “fifth wave” of emigration that only add to Moscow’s difficulties in overcoming the current economic crisis and limit still further the emergence of a Russian middle class on which the future of democracy there may depend.
The composition of this new emigration, “Novyye izvestiya” said today, is only one of its “distinctive” characteristics. Another, and one that may have at least as many consequences for Moscow is that many of them are not giving up their Russian citizenship and thus retain legal ties to their homeland (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2009-02-10/105471/).
Andrei Chernov, 32, is typical of the new immigrant. A technical specialist at a company near Moscow that saw its business disappear during the crisis, he now works in Great Britain. But he has not broken all ties with his homeland. While prospects are slim for people like himself in the near term, he says that it will always be “possible” for him to return to Russia.
According to Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, a specialist on migration at the Academy of Sciences, most of those now leaving or planning to leave are highly skilled professionals who had high incomes until recently but whose businesses have been suffered from the current crisis, a view other experts share.
Perhaps because Russia has a long history of emigrations, a fairly large percentage of people there have thought about leaving, especially among the young. According to a Levada Center poll taken last year, a third of people between the ages of 18 and 24, 35 percent of entrepreneurs, and 15 percent of managers reported that they have considered doing so.
Indeed, the only people in Russia whose members seldom think about leaving now are those who work in the security and force structures. The survey firm found that less than one percent of them have thought about leaving, a reflection of both their job security in Russia and the difficulties they might face anywhere else.
To date, the Moscow paper says, Russian government officials have played down the number leaving. The Russian Statistical Committee, for example, says that only about 4,000 people have left in recent months, but demographers say that this statistic “does not reflect reality.” It includes only those who go through the formal process of emigrating.
“The overwhelming majority” of those leaving Russia now “do not give up their Russian citizenship and retain the right of residence and registration. That means they can return, and it also means that they can travel in the CIS without a visa, using their Russian documents, and elsewhere, also often without a visa, using their residence documents from other countries.
The number of people involved in this emigration, the paper concludes, “is not that massive in comparison with the fourth wave when after the collapse of the USSR about 1.5 million people left Russia. Levada Center experts say that the current “crisis” émigrés are unlikely to exceed 100,000, “even under the most pessimistic assessments.”
(One limiting factor is that many other countries are suffering from the economic crisis as well and thus do not have the kind of jobs available that this new more elite emigration is interested in filling. Another limitation is the product of efforts of some of these countries – the US in the first instance – to limit immigration.)
But Russian sociologist Aleksey Grazhdankin argues that may change: “If unemployment [in Russia] continues to grow, and not only among young professionals, and if the West emerges from the crisis more quickly than Russia, then the outflow of highly qualified cadres will be colossal.”

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