Language courses for migrants

The State Duma is considering a bill “On Amending the Federal Law of the Legal Status of Foreign citizens in the Russian Federation” (Article 13.1, paragraph 3, item 5 and paragraph 7,1, item 6), requiring migrants to obtain a work permit in certain fields, and to present a document confirming their knowledge of Russian language at a basic level.

It is expected that this certificate will be needed to hire migrants who will communicate with people—such as house and communal service workers, and those working in retail and consumer services. This measure, according to legislators, will help solve the problem of ethnic conflict and will remove nationalistic tensions in society. There is, however, skepticism: for example, human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina believes that the new requirements create yet another opportunity for corruption: “Ultimately it will result in the trading of these documents for those which are already in place in the health books. Those sifted out will be decent people trying to honestly and freely get through testing. This law will not solve any ethnic problems because, as experience shows, people involved in clashes and conflict situations speak Russian very well, thus this law will not help prevent such situations. In society, nationalism and xenophobia is growing, and this problem will not be solved on the legislative level while politicians are benefiting from growing nationalistic sentiments” (quotes in an issue of “Gazeta”).

While knowledge of Russian language is compulsory, current legislation does not require any corresponding documentation confirming Russian language skills from migrants, even though opportunities for receiving such certification are available: they have been given the right to attend one of 160 centers that exist under the auspices of Russian universities and foreign institutions. In Saint Petersburg, under the program “Tolerance,” free courses are offered to study Russian language as a foreign language for adult migrants who came to work in Russia. The press reports that this program operates in 17 city districts and centers are located in information-methodological and scientific-methodological centers in the department of youth policy, and operate with the cooperation with community organizations, high schools, and libraries. Additionally, there are online courses for those unable to attend lessons in the centers.

I decided to find out how these courses actually work. In the Frunzensky district, they are organized in the Department of Education. As it was explained to me, I can attend classes regardless of residence registration, and granted that I do not miss lessons (twice a week, 2.5 hours) I will be issued a certificate at the end of the course. In the words of friendly leader Tatiana Anatolevna, “simple courses” are taught in a basic level of the language. The courses were constructed not long ago, only a few have been conducted. I was allowed to sit in on a class. It was a small group: four young and beautiful Azerbaijani young ladies, and with them two girls (one of school age, and the other too young to attend school). They studied the reading of letters and pronunciation of sounds, such as vowels and consonants and the differences between them. It appeared a little odd that the group was so small and that there were no working migrants among the students. I presented the bulletin of our organization and discussed that our mission is to protect the interests and rights of migrants.

In the Moscow Department of Education, 15 migrants enrolled in the language course, and only the presence of students registered in that district was recorded. I got the impression that classes are conducted formally, and that the supporters and teachers of courses are not very interested in increasing the number of students. In general, it appears to me that while Russian language courses for migrants exist, they are more “for show.” I hope that this initiative will eventually benefit those who have come to Russia to work.