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Russia needs migrant workers to support economic growth

Since the early 1990s, the Russian Federation has been the biggest receiving, sending and transit country for migrant workers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The country will need between 800,000 and 1.5 million migrant workers each year to compensate for its shrinking labour force and maintain economic growth. Poorer countries in the neighbourhood could solve the problem by sending their excess labour to Russia if the government adapts regulations and working conditions for migrants to the new situation..

Article | 20 July 2006

MOSCOW, Russian Federation (ILO Online) - "Up to 90 per cent of our drivers are from the neighbouring countries", says Nikolay Novikov, a manager at Autoline, the biggest minibus transport network in Moscow. "Russian drivers would not accept this job, it is too hard and low-paid for them."

High unemployment and low wages push an increasing number of the excess labour force in Russia's neighbouring countries to look for a job in Moscow, St. Petersburg or other Russian cities. The average monthly salary in Tajikistan, for example, is US$13 compared to US$200 in the Russian Federation.

At least one out of three households in countries like Tajikistan and Moldova count a migrant worker in Russia sending home an average of US$100 per month. Migration therefore is both necessary and inevitable for countries of the region.

On the demand side, Russia is facing a demographic and economic challenge with its decreasing economically active population. Increases in labour productivity cannot make up for the loss of hundreds of thousands of workers each year. The country is facing shortages of semi-qualified workers - drivers, construction and agricultural and other categories of workers. As these professions are relatively low-paid and therefore not popular among Russians, migrants are not competing with Russian workers on the labour market.

The current Russian legislation, however, puts migrants in a difficult situation. According to the Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens, for instance, foreigners are obliged within three days upon arrival to register at the place of their temporary stay. Furthermore, it is quite impossible for migrant workers to find cheap accommodation and get registered within such a short deadline.

What's more, migrant workers are not allowed to stay longer than one year in the country. As a result many migrants choose to stay in the country illegally. They work for employers who do not ask for a residence permit, and some of them end up in slave-like conditions of work. According to the Federal Migration Service (FMS), there are around 500,000 legal migrants and between five and 15 million undocumented migrants in Russia representing between five and seven per cent of the economically active population.

Since 2005 the migration issue is high on the political agenda of the country. President Putin and the National Security Council addressed the issue and the ministries concerned were asked to develop a national migration policy concept. In parallel, work is underway to amend legislation, particularly the above mentioned Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens.

Furthermore, the National Tripartite Commission, including government, employer and trade union representatives, approved the idea of an amnesty for undocumented migrant workers. In 2005, the FMS organized a so-called "mini-amnesty" for migrant workers in nine pilot regions of Russia. As a result, some 7,000 migrants received a legal status for their stay on Russian territory.

"The experiment proved to be successful", says Natalia Vlasova from the labour migration department of the FMS. "After a thorough analysis, the FMS will submit the appropriate proposals to the government."

According to Ms Vlasova, "the use of foreign labour has a positive impact on the social and economic development of Russia. Foreign workers create part of our gross domestic product; they ensure competitiveness of a number of Russian enterprises; and their services are affordable for the lower income categories of the population".

The ILO follows developments and recent initiatives related to labour migration in the Russian Federation with much interest and satisfaction. "We work closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Development, with employers and workers, sharing the ILO's vast experience and expertise in this area. The ILO's particular strength is its tripartite approach to addressing such a complicated and challenging issue as labour migration", says Werner Konrad Blenk, Director of the ILO Subregional Office in Moscow.