Saturday, December 29, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Gastarbeiters Only Seven Percent of Russian Workforce, Official Statistics Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 29 – Russia’s Federal Migration Service has begun publishing detailed information about foreigners entering and exiting that country which allow analysts to move beyond their personal assessments and permit the conclusion that gastarbeiters, one of the most sensitive issues in Russian life, form no more than six or seven percent of the workforce.

            In an article posted on yesterday, Aleksey Bessudnov says that in recent years, some analysts have suggested there may  be as many as 15 million immigrant and that their numbers “will only increase,” but others have maintained that their number is “significantly less and a maximum of five million (

            As of yesterday, however, this question can be answered more precisely, he says, thanks to new FMS data, data that FMS head Konstantin Romodaanovsky released after an exchange between Aleksey Zakharov ( and Bessudnov (ответа

            These data, available at, are based on the migration cards all people crossing the Russian border must fill out. Given that “there is a visa free regime between Russia and the majority of countries of the former USSR, and thus there are no stimuli for illegal crossing of the borders, this base counts practically all foreigners.”

            As of December 14, Bessudnov says, there were “about 10.3 million foreign citizens” in the country. Approximately a million had arrived less than a month earlier, and it is likely that most of these are tourists or short-term visitors. The remaining nine million have been in Russia longer than a month, and almost three million have been living there more than a year.

             “These figures,” the analyst says, “include all foreign citizens, including gastarbeiters from Central Asia, citizens of Ukraine, and people from Kazakhstan who are living in Russia, foreign students and highly qualified specialists from Europe and the United States, and so on.”

            Within this group, there are some 2.4 million people from Uzbekistan, 1.4 million from Ukraine, 1.1. million from Tajikistan, 620,000 from Azerbaijan, and 540,000 from Kyrgyzstan. Other large group include 200,000 Chinese, 300,000 Germans, 200,000 Americans, and 150,000 Britishers.

            Bessudnov says that Romodanovsky has promised to publish monthly updates on these numbers.

            Of course, the analyst continues, “these statistics do not allow one to specify the exact number of foreigners working in Russia legally or illegally.”  But it is possible to use them to get close by calculating the number of working age individuals (17 to 55) from “all the countries of the former USSR, excluding the Baltic states, China, Turkey, Vietnam, and the Philippines” that have been identified as the prime sources of gastarbeiters in Russia.

            That calculation leads to a figure of “a little more than seven million, of whom 4.8 million are from the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, but this assessment [too] is clearly exaggered: for within these seven million are all the students, tourists and guests from these countries.”

            One can also approach the number of gastarbeiters by analyzing the declarations of those entering the country about the purpose of their visit. “Approximately 2.5 million” say they are planning to work, a figure close to official claims. “But it is obvious that foreigners who intend to work without permission won’t be inclined to inform” Russian officialdom about this.

            Nonetheless, Bessudnov says, the real number of foreigners working in Russia “lies within the range of 2.5 million to seven million,” and “in all probability, it is approximately equal to five to six million” total.

            Given that the “economically active population of Russia” includes some 75 million people, one can reasonably say that “foreigners at present form approximately six to seven percent of the workforce.” That is not a small share, but it is not so large as to justify the apocalyptic concerns of many Russians.

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