Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Immigration to Moscow Up but Crimes by Guest Workers Down

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 4 – Despite a reduction in the quota for those who want to come to Moscow, the number of guest workers in the Russian capital rose by five percent in 2011, a Moscow expert says, but the number of crimes committed by this group fell by almost a third from the year before.

            That decline, Elena Tyuryuknova, the director of the Moscow Center for Migration Research, says, does mark “a turning point” in the often tense relations between Moscow natives and predominantly non-Russian guest workers, but it suggests that relations between these two groups are improving (

            The Moscow expert told Rosbalt that she believes government efforts flowing from the draft concept of a state migration policy – the government is now considering its approval -- have played a major role undercutting Russian nationalists who often blame immigrants for crime and those non-Russian migrants who sometimes turn to extremist actions as a result.

            Tyuryukanova says that the draft concept “recommends differentiating the levels of administration of labor migration” rather than relying on quotas alone as has been “the single regulator in the past.  What is particularly important, she continues, is that it calls for the elimination of “administrative levers” and hence “arbitrary behavior by officials.”

            In addition, she says, the concept calls for supporting permanent rather than temporary migration and, while opposing illegal migration, urges “the legalization of those migrants which have lived in Russia for a long time, are fully integrated, but for one reason or another have not yet been able to obtain legal status.”

            Another expert with whom Rosbalt’s Darya Mironova spoke, Nikita Mkrtchyan of the Moscow Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics, suggested that despite the progress Tyuryukanova speaks of, the main problem is that “legal migrants are less profitable [for business and the state] than are illegal ones.”

            Only if employers are punished for using illegal immigrants can Russia or any other country with large immigrant populations hope to improve the situation, Mkrtchyan suggests. Russian officials, like Olga Kirillova of the Federal Migration Service, say that is what they are doing, but the number of cases they cite is still too small to make a difference.

            Last year, Kirillova says, her administration levied fines of 344 million rubles (11 million US dollars) and forced violators from 2010 to pay an additional 92 million rubles (3 million US dollars), fines that may have affected some individual employers but hardly the economy as a whole.

            But pressure to do something about illegal immigrants may fall if the current decline in the number of crimes committed by guest workers legal and illegal continues to fall. During the first eleven months of 2011, Moscow gastarbeiters committed 8,235 crimes of all times, 27.4 percent fewer than over the same period in 2010.

            Immigrants to the Russian capital also were victims of crime less often in 2011 than in 2010. Some 3500 of them were victis in 2011, a figure 27 percent less than a year earlier, Rosbalt reported. Both these figures call into question the often emotional charges of groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigration.

            Some of this decline, Russian experts say, reflects official support for the inclusion of guest workers in neighborhood-watch type organizations, but perhaps more of it, they suggest, has come because both Russian and donor countries have worked harder to ensure that migrants learn Russian, something that makes their interaction with Moscow natives far less troubled.

            But another new Moscow policy may also be playing a role: all guest workers are now being fingerprinted, a requirement that may make police work easier and at the very least sends a message to migrants that they will be caught if they violate the law or even behave in ways Muscovites don’t like.

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