Changes introduced to Russian migration laws

Russia has introduced new registration procedures for migrants who intend to work in the country. It is aimed at reducing the number of illegal worker in street markets and the grey economy.

The head of the Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, said the new law will also increase the responsibility of employers, who take on foreign workers and will speed up the employment process for many.

Only the U.S. has more foreign migrants than Russia.

Ten million illegal immigrants are living, and working in the shadows in Russia, according to the Federal Migration service. Only over a million of them are legal. They run from unemployment and low wages from as far away as Armenia, Tajikistan and even China and Vietnam.

The new laws concerning employment authorisation and guest worker's quotas came into effect on January 15. However, only those from countries with a visa-free regime with Russia can benefit.

Previously CIS citizens, like any foreign nationals, had to go through a lengthy procedure of work authorisation involving an employer. Now the procedure is easier and takes up to 10 days.

“We limited the paperwork, the processing time and reasons for denial – we are now basically liberalizing the system and hope that guest workers wouldn't look for roundabout ways of employment. We are making a first step towards civilised migration in Russia,” Mr Romodanovsky said.

The new regulation also allows 6 million CIS migrants to gain work permits this year – that's 20 times more then last year's quota.

Nevertheless, it is not all good news for guest workers in Russia, since Immigration police are patrolling in markets daily and even if you do have a valid work permit you cannot sell alcohol or pharmaceuticals and take more than 40% of all jobs in retail markets, according to the new regulations. In addition to that, starting from April 1, you may lose your job in the retail sector.

Meanwhile, many argue the guest workers' place in the markets and the entire economy may be hard to fill.

“I don't know if that is at all possible to replace workers of this vast service industry with 100% Russian workforce, I agree pharmaceuticals trade should be regulated in the way it is.  But from flowers and trainers to fruit and vegetable retail, as far as I know, no country manages without guest workers,” Valeriy Tishkov, Head of the Public Chamber Commission on Tolerance, said.

Apart from its new policies concerning migrants, Russia also wants to offer more money to its expats.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin said favourable conditions should be offered in Russia to encourage the return of expatriates living abroad.

Those who want to return will be offered permanent residency and jobs as incentives to come home.

However, Mr Putin told the government that people should not be forced to come back.

“I want to remind you of the principles we should follow when dealing with this issue. We shouldn't force people to come back, drag them to Russia by any means or force the outflow of Russian speaking people from other CIS countries. We should create conditions for those who want to return and give people a choice,” stressed the Russian President.

As a result of Russia's new approaches, social researcher Vladimir Mukamel said the rate in Russia has significantly decreased and more and more people are returning home.

“At present we have a sharp decrease in emigration in particular to overseas countries as compared with the early nineties. [On the other hand,] migration from the Baltic and former CIS states is currently on the rise. What is notable is the sharp increase in labour migrants – between 4 to 6 million people have come to Russia,” remarked the researcher.