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19 Oct, 2009 06:28

Guest worker culture could replace population

Russia has one of the biggest immigrant populations of any country in the world and they are vital for the country's economic well-being. Despite this, many native Russians remain opposed to the idea of foreign workers.

With jobs scarce in post-Soviet states, many men see Russia as their only chance to make a living. Some migrants from Kyrgyzstan travel 3,000 kilometers from home – an opportunity they have fought for, and they cannot afford to be picky.

“I think I could have found a similar job in Kyrgyzstan but salaries in Kyrgyzstan are much lower,” says Kyrgyz migrant Nurlan Suygurov, who has two university degrees, and now is working the conveyor belt at a confectionary plant outside Moscow. For him it was an offer too sweet to resist.

With 12 million foreigners currently residing in Russia, the country now ranks as the world's second largest migrant destination after the United States. And while most so-called “aliens” take unskilled and low-paid jobs, they do not always receive a warm welcome from the natives.

Labor shortages, an ageing population, and slower economic growth – by all accounts, Russia needs migrants just as much as they need Russia. Yet this argument has so far failed to win over the locals. According to a recent poll, about 60% of Russians are strongly in favor of limiting the influx of migrants.

Even those Russian citizens who are not against the migrants, they would wish migrants had more respect for the local population. Sometimes they pity them, in other situations they make them angry. Indeed, some believe migrants steal everything they can.

While the opposition to guest workers appears to be on the rise, many observers insist foreigners are Russia's best bet in trying to sustain its population levels and even perform some of its social functions.

Director of Demography Center Anatoly Vishnevsky points out that “Russia has a shrinking population that’s also growing older. Even if birth rates go up, as the government hopes, [Russia] will have to wait 20 years until these babies become part of the workforce. But migrants are already here, ready to work.”

Even though many Russians tacitly accept migrant labor, analysts say it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Unlike in the United States, where many come with an intention of staying in the land of opportunity, those seeking work in Russia often have a return ticket, like Nurlan Suygurov. His goal is to save enough money to buy a house in Kyrgyzstan.

“It's good to be a guest, but there is no place like home,” Nurlan says.