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Russia’s Migration Reforms – Learning to look at the Glass Half Full

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

The more I work on migration issues, I have come to realize the uniqueness of the CIS region migration phenomena. Migration in what is currently called the CIS region (the former Soviet Union) includes both migration within the region and external migration. Although the CIS countries are now nation states, they were earlier part of one country. The migration phenomena, therefore, existed for more than 70 years before the fall of Soviet Union in 1991. Despite being ethnically different, almost all speak Russians (although the fluency in Russian is declining over time, especially in the younger generation). There is substantial movement of goods and services and trade integration across the region.

As the largest and one of the most resource rich economies in the CIS region, Russia attracts many migrants from poorer neighboring countries. The Russian authorities have also been hard at work trying to help address the migration challenges. Given declining population growth rates and labor force, Russia has provided a quite open migration policy for CIS nationals. However, managing migration has not been easy and been wrought with many challenges in design and implementation of migration policies and programs.

It is however important that we acknowledge the substantial progress it has already made over the last two decades. Let me enumerate a few important steps that Russia has taken that are noteworthy:

1. Creation of Visa free regime: Since the break of Soviet Union, Russia has taken the lead in creating a visa free regime with agreement of CIS countries since 1992, which has enabled the initial conditions for a unified labor space. However, this has undergone various changes over the last twenty years due social, political and economic factors. In 2000 Russia introduced separate bilateral visa-free agreements with selected countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.

2. Registration for those visiting Russia has enabled them to keep track of arrivals for shorter and longer durations. Until very recently registration of arrivals had to be done within 3 working days, but in March, 2011 it was changed to 7 working days, again showing flexibility on the side of Russian authorities.

3. In addition, the Russian government over the years has taken various measures to ease and increase transparency regarding immigration policies. The Federal Migration Service of Russia has taken the lead to ensure they are balanced and address the concerns of both sending and receiving countries. These measures have eased the entry of skilled professionals and have tried to reduce illegal migration. These include simplified procedures for highly qualified professionals such as multiple entry visas, exemption from quota regime for family members, and extended registration deadlines.

4. Lowering the cost of remittance transfers is another area in which Russia has done well. Russia has the lowest average cost across G8 countries, according to the World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide database. Exclusivity contracts were made illegal in the 1990s, making the environment for sending remittances very competitive (see report).

Hence, despite the fact many of us lament over the slow progress in improving migration management policies and institutions, it is clear that Russian authorities have undertaken many steps to assist the CIS region. They continue to innovate within the limits of economic, political and social constraints. We should focus on the “half glass full”, not just the “half glass empty” as we have become accustomed in the migration debate.
 

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