Migration Policy in Russia: Editor’s Introduction

Migration has become an increasingly difficult problem for the Russian government as the decline and subsequent stagnation of the size of Russia’s population and a relatively higher standard of living in Russia have made the country an attractive goal for migrants from a number of former Soviet republics. The articles in this issue of Russian Politics and Law examine the question of migration from several points of view, including critical analysis, comparative politics, history, and policy.

In “Central Asian Migration: Practices, Local Communities, Transnationalism,” Sergei Abashin argues that asking the question “how does one begin to see oneself as a migrant?” may be a more useful way to analyze migration than asking “who are the migrants?” He highlights the importance of everyday practices, local communities, and transnational space in determining how people who see themselves as belonging to migrant communities answer this question.

Abashin begins by examining how the term “migrant” is defined in official discourse, showing that usage of the term in Russian government documents and statements is often inconsistent and ambiguous. He then shows how everyday conceptions of migrants and migration are tied into ideas about ethnic identity and national belonging that often diverge from the existing formal definitions of migration. As a result of these inconsistencies, Abashin calls for researchers to focus on ethnographic accounts of being a migrant, rather than limiting themselves to examining formal statistics on migration and drawing policy prescriptions on the basis of such findings.

Iana Strel’tsova’s article, “Integrating Immigrants in an Economic Crisis,” compares the Russian experience of migrant integration to that of France. On the basis of this comparison, Strel’tsova finds that multiculturalism has a poor record of success on the ground in terms of achieving the occupational, social, linguistic–cultural, and political integration of temporary and permanent immigrants.

Strel’tsova argues that governments need to take this record into account in devising integration programs and setting related policy goals. She believes that Russian officials formulating the country’s migration policy need to ensure that the existing ethnocultural and linguistic balance is maintained. She calls for policies that take into account both the state’s ethnic diversity and “the special role played by the ethnic majority—the Russian people—and by the Russian language created by this people.”

Ol’ga Vendina, in “Migrants in Russian Cities,” examines the history of migration to urban areas in Russia and the Soviet Union. Using the demographic history of Moscow as an example, she argues that the placement of particular emphasis on concepts such as “ethnic minority,” “migrant,” and “diaspora” in Russian cities impedes the formation of a culturally diverse, responsive modern urban civilization.

Vendina calls for making a distinction between the concept of an ethnic group and that of an ethnic minority. She shows that people can consider themselves to be members of an ethnic group without regarding themselves as ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities, furthermore, are a social group that focuses on common interests and threats to the group, rather than their group’s ethnic or cultural distinctiveness. In this environment, Vendina argues that the best way for the government to ensure “amicable cohabitation” between migrants and long-term residents is to encourage cultural pluralism. She is not optimistic that the Russian government is capable of pursuing such a policy.

In “Ethnic and Migration Policy in the 2000s Viewed in the Context of Relations Between the Federal Center and the Regions,” Vladimir Mukomel’ examines the connection between federal migration and nationalities policies. He discusses trends in these policies at both the federal and regional levels, arguing that most of the constructive activity over the last few years has taken place in the regions rather than in the center.

Mukomel’ highlights the problems inherent in a situation where the federal government controls migration while the regions are given responsibility for nationalities policy. This situation leads to various discrepancies and contradictions that damage the rights of members of migrant groups. Without a greater effort to coordinate policies across different levels of government, levels of social tension are likely to increase.

The last two articles in this issue provide some prescriptions for Russia’s migration policy. In “Russia Needs a New Migration Policy,” Sergei Riazantsev argues that Russia’s new migration policy fails to respond to the needs of the time and neglects international experience. He believes that to fulfill its objectives, the state should work to reduce emigration, encourage educational and business migration, make the quota system for foreign workers more transparent, and improve data collection on migration.

Andrei Molchanov’s “Meet the Migrants” presents an official perspective on migration, as the author is a member of the Federation Council. Molchanov highlights the extent of labor migration into the Russian Federation and the problems that it causes both in the labor market and in social interactions involving migrants. He discusses progress in the formulation of official migration policy and seeks to eliminate the link between labor migration and the formation of ethnic enclaves in population centers, which for Molchanov are linked with both illegal activity and the formation of negative attitudes toward migrants among the population. His goals amount to the promulgation of an integration program that would speed the adaptation of migrants and their children to “the cultural norms of Russian society.”

Migration remains a complex and difficult issue for the Russian state and for Russian society. The need for migrant labor is counterbalanced by the danger of rising xenophobic and anti-migrant attitudes among large segments of the Russian population. Successfully balancing these issues is a task at which far more effective states than Russia have failed.

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