Staunton, September 24 – Many Russians assume that immigration is constantly rising and that this tsunami will ultimately swamp the domestic population, but in fact, Sergey Abashin says, immigration comes in waves, ebbing and flowing with economic change, and won’t have the consequences many assume can’t be avoided.
The anthropologist at St. Petersburg’s European University says this sine wave pattern reflects both the state of the Russian economy – when it is booming, there are more immigrants; when it is in recession, the number of immigrants declines – and the ruble dollar exchange rate – when the ruble is strong, there are more; and when it is weak, fewer (liberal.ru/migration/7665).
When the Russian economy and the ruble were doing well, Abashin says, the number of immigrants grew; but when the economy has gone into recession and the ruble’s value has fallen, not only have fewer arrived, something most people recognize; but the number leaving has increased, leaving the number in country far smaller than many think.
He traces the statistics offered by the Russian Central Bank and other agencies over the past 15 years to show that this pattern is the only constant and thus to make his case (ranepa.ru/images/docs/monitoring/monitoring-13-74.pdf and ranepa.ru/images/News/2019-07/22-07-2019-monitoring.pdf).
Abashin argues that Russia today is seeing the same thing. Falling oil prices and thus falling ruble-dollar exchange rates and the pandemic quarantine measures with their negative impact on the economy have combined to drive down the number of immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, with few coming and large numbers going home.
According to the St. Petersburg scholar, there is no reason to expect immigration to increase significantly even with economic recovery beyond the 8.0 to 8.5 million a year who came between 2013 and 2019. In fact, their numbers may actually decline especially if increasing numbers do take Russian citizenship.
Abashin concludes that “the stabilization and reduction of the level of migration into Russia is an inevitable process in the near future.” The CIS countries which have supplied immigrants in the past are close to the exhaustion of the portions of the population ready to move to Russia, especially as many of them can make more money elsewhere.
“This does not mean that migration into Russia will quickly fall to nothing, but its main boom is in the past,” even if the Kremlin would like to see more immigrants to make up for the declining number of Russians entering the workforce because of lower birthrates in past few years.
That may be good news for Russians fearful of being “swamped” by Central Asians, but it is likely to become a bottleneck for the country’s economic development unless Moscow is able to boost the number of Russians of working age by policies designed to boost the birthrate or cut the super-high mortality rates now in place or change the structure of the economy.
Doing either will be difficult and take time, something that makes Abashin’s predictions about immigration very worrisome to the country’s leadership.