Monday, January 15, 2007

Immigration Reform in Russia

Immigration reform enforcement begins – Russian style.

New Laws Create Widespread Uncertainty For Migrants: A government decree went into effect on January 1, but with the holiday hiatus is only now being enforced. The decree restricts the number of non-Russians working in the retail trade in outside markets and kiosks. Now the quota is set at 40 percent. From April 1, it will incrementally decrease to zero by the end of the year.

"The new rules will have some positive and some negative effects for migrants," Muhabbatov says. "The positive effect is the simplification of registration rules for migrants in Russia. In the past, migrants could register for only three months, but now they can do so for six months or one year. But on the other hand, the rules have been tightened for employers who give work to Tajik migrants. Companies that use illegal migrants will be fined 800,000 rubles. Most employers, who employ Tajik migrants virtually for free, will employ fewer Tajik migrants after that." What that means is more uncertainty and, in many cases, a scramble to get legal.

Virtually” free labor certainly helps keep operational costs low for business and the new laws have financial disincentives for employers. A problem is that a history of chronic corruption makes it probable that bribing officials will neutralize this deterrence. That is unless the authorities are actually intent on driving out the swarm of recent arrivals. Zero as the end of the year goal is a pretty small number.

Modern-Day Racism? The collapse of the Soviet Union has also contributed to the problem by literally opening the floodgates to uncontrolled migration. Soviet authorities maintained absolute control on people movement through residence permits and internal passports. Now, migrants from the former Soviet republics face far fewer travel restrictions, and a much greater need to go wherever they can find work -- usually the comparatively prosperous Russia. It's a situation that has fueled massive resentment toward migrants among many Russians, many of whom are themselves struggling to make ends meet.

Maybe the Russians are mindful of inertia. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest. Migration initially begins when bodies start going into motion and I’m sure the Russians are very aware of the way population dynamics are playing out in Europe.