Russia open to immigrants


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yuri Filippov). Today, Russia is one of the most attractive destinations for immigration, at least in Eurasia.

A million Chinese are already working and doing business here, along with a million Ukrainians, as many Azeris, 500,000 Tajiks, 400,000 Uzbeks, 300,000 Kyrgyzs and almost 300,000 Armenians.

By the most liberal estimates, Russia now has about 15 million immigrants, but its immigration potential is far from exhausted. Ara Abramyan, president of the Union of Russian Armenians, said that in two decades Russia might have ten million Armenians, who would become one of the country's largest diasporas.

Of course, the mass migration now under way all over Russia gives rise to numerous problems. The country, which for several decades strictly regulated the travel of its own citizens, is not totally ready for this new reality. It is enough to say that no more than 20% of the 15 million immigrants reside in Russia legally. But this is due to a temporary mistake by Russian lawmakers rather than the fatal error of millions of people who decided to move to Russia.

Some researchers believe that the emigration capacities of Russia's neighbors are almost exhausted and that the migration peak has been passed. This is hard to believe given the potential of China, with its 1.5 billion people. Moreover, there are some serious, objective reasons for the Russian authorities to encourage immigration and, simultaneously, for its neighbors to view it as a good option.

The foremost among them is the acute demographic crisis that started in the early 1990s, when the population began to drop by an average of 700,000 people annually. On October 1, 2005, Russia's population stood at 142.9 million, compared with 148.7 million in 1992. Demographers say that even if the death rate starts declining and the birth rate growing, the population in 2025 will be just 128.8 million. This is too few people for one seventh of the world's landmass, and national leaders have already realized that this is a major threat to national interests.

In his recent state of the nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the demographic problem was extremely important for Russian society and the state, especially its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Later he explained, "Russia is the world's largest country by land area, and if it goes on like this, there will be no one to protect it." Now Russia is working on legislation to facilitate the granting of citizenship to foreigners willing to serve in the Russian Army.

Still, government privileges are not what attracts new immigrants to the country. By Eurasian measures, Russia is relatively rich, and it is easier for immigrants to succeed here than in their home countries, especially since not only labor but also entrepreneurship and capital are in demand. This is very important for those who view Russia not as a temporary place to make money, but as a possible new homeland that will give them their due and help them reach a fairly high social status. Immigrants already earn a total of $20-$30 billion annually and hold steady jobs in trade, industry, construction, agriculture and other spheres. They even work at local government bodies.

Russian politicians are now wondering whether Russia will be able to absorb the unexpectedly huge flow of immigrants, how these newcomers will adapt and whether today's trends will later result in something like the Arab-African uprising in the Paris suburbs.

Even knowledge of Russia's language, culture and history do not always help immigrants to adjust to Russian society more easily. Interethnic conflicts are quite common in Russian regions, especially when it seems to native residents that rich immigrants buy the best land plots, take key positions in trade, are involved in drug trafficking from Asia to Europe or set up ethnic criminal groups. Still, there is not much competition for jobs between Russians and the blue-collar workers who form the bulk of immigrants.

Russia has not developed any national immigration program yet. Perhaps it should not rush to do so, first concentrating on studying demographic processes and trends. Today the government wants to monitor immigration flows in order to facilitate and modify registration and work-permit procedures. Having done that, it will be able to determine Russia's real demand for foreign workers, specialists and businessmen, allowing it to place a "government immigration order".

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