Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: A Russia without Migrants Would Be a Very Poor Place, Tajik Activist Warns

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 11 – Infuriated by the rising tide of anti-immigrant attitudes in the Russian Federation, a Tajik activist living in Ryazan asks Russians to imagine just how badly off they and their country would be if suddenly xenophobic groups were able to achieve their goal of “a Russia without any migrants at all.”
In an email to the portal today, Azim Makhsumov, head of the Ryazan branch of the All-Russian Social Movement “Tajik Labor Migrants,” suggests that the contribution immigrants make to various aspects of Russian life is best seen if one considers a model of a Russia without them (
If all immigrant workers now in Russia were sent home and new immigration banned, there would be significant changes “in all aspects of the life of the state – social, economic, political, and societal,” Makhsumov says, changes that in almost all cases would have consequences few in Russia would want.
The first changes would be in the economy and specifically in the areas of property and trade, he points out. Approximately two million apartments would become vacant, rents would fall, and because most of those who rent to immigrants are themselves either in the middle or lower parts of the income pyramid, economic inequality in Russia would increase.
Moreover, the massive number of vacancies would lead to a decline in prices not only for housing at the bottom of the market but in upper brackets as well, thus costing Russians much of their wealth and leading them to spend less otherwise, something that would have negative consequences for economic growth overall.
The absence of immigrants would also lead to a collapse in markets for food and other consumables. At present, immigrants purchase at a minimum 500 billion rubles (16 billion US dollars) of good in Russia each year. In the imaginary world of a Russia without migrants, they wouldn’t. That would ultimately trigger a rise in food prices of 10 to 15 percent, he says.
In the labor market, the effects of an elimination of immigrants would be various. On the one hand, pay in many sectors would initially rise because of the absence of competition from those prepared to work for less. But most of that rise would occur in the major cities and in fields like construction where migrants currently play a big role.
The absence of the migrants from abroad would thus stimulate more internal migration with regions and especially agricultural areas losing ever more people to the megalopolises. That would send food production down and lead to more purchases of foreign goods, something that would have a negative impact on consumption patterns.
But in addition, it would have other consequences. Some regions would lose so many people that industrial production in them would fall. Others would find themselves drive into poverty by a combination of factors. And still others would face a crisis in which more men left than women, adding to already serious Russia’s demographic woes.
Immediately, the elimination of migrant workers would mean that many Russian cities would “drown” in trash because there would be no one to collect it. That would lead either to an increase in taxes to pay people to do so or more likely to “the spread of infectious diseases which are dangerous for residents of Russia.”
Indeed, Makhsumov says, “the decline in the level of life, the social defenselessness of pensions and children would appear practically at once” if there were no more immigrants. And even one problem that many Russians now believe would be improved if there were no immigrants would in fact get worse.
At present, he points out, corrupt officials and businessmen extract from 150 to 200 billion rubles a year (5 to 7 billion US dollars) by extorting immigrants. If the immigrants did not exist, Makhsumov says, “it is reasonable to suppose that they will recoup their ‘losses’ by turning on the indigenous population.”
And there is a political dimension to a prohibition of immigration. “In the countries which today are migrant donors to Russia, anti-Russian attitudes would intensify,” and “pro-American politicians would strengthen their positions” in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Moreover, “the economies of the states of Central Asia, like the Afghan one, would become based on heroin production.” And in that event, it is no challenge to predict that “the flow of narcotics would be directed toward Russia,” which is already suffering from a serious drug problem.
“All these changes,” he continues, “will lead to the weakening of the political influence of Russia on the international stage,” and consequently those who oppose immigration are “not simply enemies” of Russia, Makhsumov concludes, “they are state criminals” who deserve the most severe punishments rather than increasing public support.

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