Work migration

December’s nationalist demonstrations have affected the political life of the country. Unfortunately, the authorities of the Russia Federation did not oppose the street riots of xenophobes and accepted the anti-migrant rhetoric: high-ranking officials again speak of “ethnic criminality”, “criminal migration” and “erosion of Russian ethnicity.” The prime-minister proposed to make the rules of “the registration of newcomers in big cities” stricter. The Interior department of Moscow declared that “The Centre for Resisting Ethnic Criminality” would be founded.  The call to target working migrants was readily heard and resounded in some regions and specialised departments. Two basic myths about economic migration were resurrected in the public forum, both of which turned out to be in high demand in St Petersburg.

The myth of economic threat and losses brought by migrants “taking jobs away” is very popular among the representatives of executive power. On February 15, 2011 the governor of St Petersburg, Valentina Matvienko, said at the meeting of government of St Petersburg that quotas on recruitment of foreign workers should be decreased as the city should give preference to the use of Russian human resources (http://www.firstnews.ru/news/society/19507/). It is interesting that this statement contradicts the decision of the Ministry of healthcare and social development which approved for St Petersburg the highest quota in the country – 197252 foreigners can work in the city (about 17, 000 in the Leningrad region), and only 128803 – in Moscow. More than a third worker is supposed to be unqualified (http://www.baltinfo.ru/2010/12/30/Peterburg-obgonit-Moskvu-po-kolichestvu-legalnykh-trudovykh-migrantov-180423).

The fallacy of this myth was witnessed by the head of the city committee of economic policy, industry and trade, Yevgeny Yelin. He admitted that the city lacks of labour power: over 65, 000 jobs for 16, 800 unemployed citizens. At the same time the amount of residents able to work is decreasing. Yelin said that “Petersburg as well as Moscow cannot manage without work migration” (http://www.professia.info/?prof=nview&st=5040). The statistics of the committee’s work shows that the demanded professions in the city are traditionally migrants’ ones: assistant workers, cooks, bricklayers, drivers, loaders, plasterers, cleaners, salespersons, house painters, mounters, cashiers, nurses and kindergarteners.

The large contribution of work migration to the Russian economy is accepted by experts. Vyacheslav Postavnin, the president of the Foundation ‘Migration 21st century’ , says that “according to the official data, migrants produce about 10% of Russian gross domestic product.” Zhanna Zayonchovskaya, the head of the Laboratory of Population Migration in the Institute of Macroeconomic Prognosis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, makes a more categorical conclusion: “Economic recession, decreasing income and salary, freezing pensions, the shutting down of social and security programmes are real threats for Russia if it cannot (or does not want to) host enough migrants to compensate for demographic losses” (the Migration XXI century journal, #2, September 2010).

The myth of the criminal character of work migration and “ethnic criminality” is even more powerful. The head of the Investigating Committee, Alexandr Bastrykin, and then the head of the Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, proposed a programme of obligatory fingerprinting for migrants from 2013 aimed at preventing and fighting against such kinds of criminality. Migrants applying for work permits will be fingerprinted in St Petersburg from 2011.

Unfortunately, police data is not usually provided in the public speeches of high-ranking police officials: in January-November 2010 only 45,800 crimes of 2, 400 000 registered by the police were committed by foreign citizens. Thus, non-citizens commit less than 2% of all crimes and are not a criminalised group. The statements on “ethnic criminality” are also speculative: as criminological and ethnological expertises show that organised criminal groups are always international. “For the effectiveness of their business, criminals create groups not paying any attention to ethnic identity” (http://www.polit.ru/research/2007/06/17/sova.html).

These anti-migrant myths which are wide open to criticism have serious influence upon public opinion and the position of authorities. Fighting against the “migrant threat” and trying “to tighten the grip” over migration processes, the authorities forget about the real problems of migrants – ordinary people who want to work and live in Russia. In 2010 and the beginning of 2011 the lawyers and human rights activists of the ADC Memorial rendered social and legal assistance to over 150 migrant workers. The fieldworkers interviewed over 200 people, mostly staff of large chainstores in St Petersburg. The data of interviews and legal consultations confirm that migrants are discriminated against in all spheres of public life in St Petersburg.

After foreigners arrive in St Petersburg, they become victims of cheating mediator companies offering help in obtaining registration and work permits. Half-legal and corrupt outsourcing companies are so active, that very few migrants go directly to the Federal Migration Service. Almost all migrants working in the spheres of trade and constructing complain of labour rights violations by employers: hard work without any days off, destandardized working day, sometimes lasting for 12-14 hours, no work contracts or any social guarantees, systematic non-payment and backdated wages. Foreign workers usually live in awful conditions: at best, they live in overcrowded rented flats in the outskirts of the cities, and at worst– in basements and unsafe houses. Usually migrants cannot access medical aid because of high prices for ambulance and doctor’s services. Free medical aid is not for “Gastarbeiters.” outrageous behaviour on the part of the police is systematic: checking documents, extortions, threats , raids and arrests on “ethnic grounds” – seem to aim to terrorize. The police do not allow feeling safe either at home or at work, even less on the streets. The number of xenophobic crimes is constantly increasing. Such a situation makes migrants feel like  people of second quality, powerless to discrimination…

One of the main specialisations of ADC Memorial is monitoring the situation of observance of migrant workers’ rights in the regions of the North-Western Federal District. To compare the situation of migrant workers in different regions, in the beginning of 2011 our colleagues went to the Arkhangelsk and Kaliningrad regions and to the Republic of Karelia. They met with representatives of the Federal Migration Service, ombudsmen, representatives of ethnic minorities, human rights organisations, trade unions and real migrants. While doing our research we were interested in the socio-economic situation at the local level, the legal situation in the region, the effectiveness of specialised state institutions (supervisory agencies and ombudsmen) in respect to advocacy of migrants’ rights, rights of ethnic minorities, foreign citizens and stateless persons, as well as the involvement of civil society, ethnic diasporas and human rights and nongovernmental organisations into anti-discriminatory activities.

Regardless of regional specifics, migrant workers play a significant role in economic life everywhere. In the Arkhangelsk region foreigners work as lumbermen and builders, or in industrial and agricultural spheres, in Karelia – as lumbermen and in the spheres of agriculture, road construction, services and trade. In the Kaliningrad region, the main sphere of migrants’ work is constructing, fishing, services and transport. The Kaliningrad region together with the Leningrad one are thickly settled and economically developed and attract many migrants. The Arkhangelsk region and Karelia are large, under-populated regions with decreasing populations and a deficit of labour power. Much less migrants come to these regions, and the balance of migration is relatively low. Migrant workers face violations of their rights in all regions. Another great problem is the detention of foreign citizens and stateless persons, especially those released from prison, in temporary detention facilities – in no region have special detention centres been built. In all these regions migrants use the services of mediators, often dishonest compatriots, in obtaining documents and job placement. However, the scale of this business is nothing compared with the one in St Petersburg and the Leningrad region, and specialised “legal agencies-cheaters’ are not so wide-spread. It is interesting that migrants in Karelia and the Arkhangelsk region noted the correct behaviour of police and the effective work of FMS, compared to Moscow and St Petersburg. At the same time ombudsmen are not well-known or popular among migrants and in fact do not work with them. However, the representative for Human Rights constantly receives requests from stateless persons – imprisoned or convicted to deportation. In spite of the growth of migration in all regions of North-West, quotas are decreasing everywhere.

Analysing migration processes, specialists and representatives of power focus on the need for the integration and socio-cultural adaptation of migrants in regions – resistance to nationalism. Public consultation councils uniting leaders of national diasporas and centres of integration and adaptation of migrants are created under departments of FMS. Thus, administration gives functions of control and advocacy of migrants’ rights to the leaders of diasporas, usually large businessmen, thinking that businessmen from ethnic minorities with citizenship and political weight are able to advocate migrants’ rights effectively and disinterestedly. Tightening grip and control over migration, FMS becomes orientated to cooperation with the big businesses lobbying over migration and playing the role of half-official mediator between migrant workers and state institutions. Time will tell whether this cooperation model is effective and free of corruption. The unique experience was attested in Karelia where a chain of district Centres for Socio-cultural Adaptation of Migrants were organised in libraries and public councils in the local administration, interior department and department of FMS. A large number of nongovernmental organisations, national diasporas, religious and cultural associations enable a polyethnic civil society of the republic to influence political life of the region and help citizens and migrants in complicated situations. The results of such policy, as a reaction to the nationalist riots in Kondopoga in 2006, are obvious: most migrants stay in Karelia, get citizenship and become equal members of Russian society, with equal rights.

Will the migrant-integration projects be successful? Will cooperation with national diasporas be effective? What will the authorities decide – to stimulate migration or tighten control, decreasing quotas and making migration law stricter? In any case, despite turns of migration policy, tens of thousands of people will come to Russia, North-West and St Petersburg seeking an opportunity to survive and feed their families. Only if racial and national discrimination is overcome, if the fight against xenophobia and corruption is approved, migrant workers will be not “damned migrants’ but fully-fledged citizens of a free, democratic country.

Andrei Yakimov


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