Russia still “El Dorado” for illegal immigrants

For many people in poor countries, especially Central Asian states, Russia is a land of opportunity. Millions of migrants flock in every year, in search of greener pastures. But many are forced to work illegally and their life is far from perfect.

The Russian Federal Migration Service comes knocking on the door at four o'clock in the morning.

Officers say they arrive at this early hour before the immigrants leave for work, which usually happens around 6am.

“Such raids are conducted in order to find illegal immigrants. Usually, we have about seven or eight such raids a month,” says Officer Aleksandr Kholodov from the Federal Migration Service.

Vietnamese 22-year-old Wu Wan Wy is one of those who the Federal Migration Service found without permission to work in the country.

“I don't have documents, I don't know Russian laws. I've been in Russia for about a year, and I don't understand the rules and customs of the country,” Wu Wan Wy says.

Wu is one of a dozen immigrants who were apprehended during the raid. But officials say there are millions more undetected in Russia.

“Currently, there are about five million foreign citizens working in the Russian Federation. A fifth of them work legally, the vast majority: illegally,” says Oleg Neterebsky from the Moscow Labor Department.

So, why do Vietnamese, Chinese, and many from other Asian countries continue to flock to Russia?

“Although they get paid a lot less than native workers would be paid for the same job, it's still a lot more than they would've earned back home,” says economist Anatoly Vishnevsky. “Migrant workers are a very valuable resource for all countries with developed economies, as they do all the hard, low-paid jobs that no one in the country wants to do.”

Russia has the second-largest number of immigrants in the world after the US, and with plenty of jobs in industries such as construction and retail, the flow of migrant workers does not show any signs of drying up, even if the hours are long and the living conditions cramped.