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July 4, 2004 by AK

Two words on immigration. Word 2.

Russia, too, is going through a high-immigration period. The question “Who’d want to move to Russia?” is important but not in the way Dave meant it. Who can legally get into the US on a work or residency visa? Those who have close relatives there; those who can pass as refugees; and those who have skills that are officially in demand in the US–skills from a rather narrow set, such as computer-related and scientific. Plus, those who know how to convince US immigration authorities they qualify under any of these categories, have a huge advantage. Thus, whatever brains are being drained out of Russia and the CIS, there are still a good deal left. My ideal immigrant from the former USSR would be well educated and Russophone or bilingual. That kind of person wouldn’t be particularly visible in Moscow, especially if ethnically Russian or Ukrainian. But they realize they are going to face stringent competition in Russian cities, and there is no guarantee of winning.

Immigrants I see in the streets of Moscow are, of course, in a different class–or I wouldn’t be able to identify them as folks “not from here.” Lots of them may be guestworkers, but something tells me some are going to spend a lot of time in Russia, provided the economy does not collapse. Russia, it seems, has no shortage of unskilled native labor. Why then…?

Ironically, partly because of legal restrictions on residency and foreign labor. Employers find it more profitable and convenient to hire CIS nationals (read illegals whose labor is cheap) and pay off Russian authorities than hire Russian citizens.

Aside from higher reservation wages, I don’t know what obstacles there are to recruiting teams of Russians in provincial areas for work on Moscow construction sites. I suppose I don’t know enough of this market. Still, every time I hear of the low wages outside of Russia’s big cities, I recall that Ukrainians, Moldovans and Tajiks are taking jobs that seem fit for migrants from other places within Russia. The Duma passed a stringent immigration law this year (which I don’t approve of), now how about enforcing it? Sure, profit margins would get squeezed a little, but Russian workers are not that much more expensive to wipe out the profits.


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