Staunton, September 10 – The number of immigrants in Moscow is projected to increase to 2.5 million by the end of next year when such people will constitute nearly a quarter of the city’s population and when an increasing percentage of them will be there illegally, given the inability of Russian officials at present to regulate this flow.
Indeed, officials and experts say, efforts to reduce the number of immigrants by cutting legal quotas are only leading to a “sharp” growth in the number of illegals, people who have fewer protections in the workforce and can be paid less, limited, access to public services, and, at least according to some, a greater inclination to behave illegally in other ways.
In 2011, Maksim Topilin, Russia’s deputy minister for health and social development, said yesterday that the number of legal migrants allowed into Russia will decline by 163,000 to 1,235,000, with the quota for legal immigrants into the Russian capital falling from 200,000 to 160,000 (www.marker.ru/news/1897).
Those smaller quotas will only mean, experts say, that “the number of illegal [immigrants] will grow sharply and make up an increasing share of the some 2.5 million gastarbeiters in Moscow that experts like Sergey Bondaryev of the International Alliance of Labor Migration now predict, a figure that would be a million more than official estimates now.
Given that a significant portion of those immigrants and especially the illegal ones will come from Central Asia and the Caucasus and given the xenophobic attitudes of many Russians in Moscow, these figures alone are likely to generate a rising tide of public concern about the future of the Russian capital.
But even more serious in terms of impact on public attitudes there are likely to be the admissions by senior Russian officials this week that they have lost control of the situation, that restricting quotas is counterproductive, and that they are at a loss as to what to do next. Indeed, they concede, certain recent changes in the law make the arrival of even more immigrants likely.
In a report entitled “The Government is Losing Its Levers to Administer Migration Policy,” the ANNews.ru portal pointed first of all to a law that went into effect in July which “made it easier for a number of categories of migrants from CIS countries to obtain permission” to work in Russia (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=234407).
The law calls for better registration of immigrants, but the realities of Russian life work against that. “The majority of migrants now are registered not by themselves but with the help of commercial firms which offer them a whole range of services for fees running up to 1500 rubles or more. This is understandable,” the portal said, because “many migrants don’t know Russian.”
But this system opens the way to abuse, experts say, and “creates the condition for uncontrolled labor migration,” something they suggest constitutes “a threat to the very existence of the government system of regulating labor migration and in the final analysis to the social-economic situation, security of the state, and health and well-being of the population.”
Attitudes toward migrants are worsening, the report continues, with many upset that immigrants who are prepared to work for less are taking jobs from Russians and others concerned about the spread of disease, drugs and crime, trends that have received often sensationalist coverage in the Russian media.
Even more significant, a few days ago, Konstantin Romodanovsky, the head of the Federal Migration Service, acknowledged to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that while the precise figures remain a matter of dispute, “a large segment of the gastarbeiters in Russia as before is in Russia illegally” (www.politcom.ru/10704.html).
In a commentary on this issue where the FMS head’s words were cited, Sergey Rasov pointed out that the migrants themselves are not the only source of this problem. Many of their Russian employers don’t want them to register in order to avoid paying them prevailing wages and paying the government taxes of various kinds.
Moreover, the cost of registering is extremely high so many migrants choose to remain illegal, and their status outside the Russian legal sphere has become “a profitable business for the informal leaders of diasporas” who are able to provide employers with such workers who are often abused as a result.
And finally, Rasov notes, the Russian powers that be are reluctant to tighten things up as popular as that might be among ordinary Russians. That is because any move against illegal immigrants could undermine Moscow’ relations with the countries of Central Asia from which many of them come. Indeed, that has already happened on occasion in the past.
Consequently and in a way that resembles the situation elsewhere, the Russian Federation finds itself caught not only by the competing desires of the migrants themselves, the business community, the foreign policy elite, and the population at large but also by the lack of effective mechanisms to cope with the demands of any of these groups.