Migration Dilemmas Haunt Post-Soviet Russia
By Timothy Heleniak
As Russia enters the 21st century, it is confronting a set of migration issues
that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Russians are grappling with the
transition from a planned to a market economy, the liberalization of society,
and their first decade of post-Soviet politics. Along with the upheaval in many
other aspects of Russian life, these forces have fundamentally altered
migration patterns. How well Russia manages its new migration reality will have
deep economic, political, and social consequences far into the future.
Four key trends, in the form of major migration streams, are impacting the new
Russia: a "brain drain" to the West of some of the country's best and
brightest; an influx of ethnic Russians, Russian-speakers, and others
from the other states of the former Soviet Union; a depopulation of Siberia and
the Far East; and Russia's emergence as a "migration magnet."
Before delving into these four dilemmas confronting policy makers, however,
there are two key contexts in which they must be placed. First, there is
Russia's past, in which expansion and empire-building were key. Second, there
is the present, over which looms a corrosive demographic crisis.
From Empire-Building to Diaspora
The Russian Federation is by far the world's largest country in physical terms,
with nearly twice the territory of Canada and the United States. Because of its
size, it has the longest external border of any nation. It shares a land border
with 14 countries -- more than any other political unit in the world -- and as
a result, requires 450 different official border crossing points. The realities
of managing this border seem to have caught Russia off guard, as it has been busy
with other aspects of nation-building and the difficult task of constructing a
market economy on the ruins of 70 years of central planning.
When the Soviet Union dissolved and borders were reshuffled in 1992, more than
25 million ethnic Russians living in the 14 non-Russian republics suddenly
found themselves part of a large diaspora community. Until then, they had made
up a 51 percent majority in their extended homeland, but the sudden contraction
of Russian hegemony ended a process of expansion that dates from the 16th
Historically, with the expansion of the Russian Empire to include non-Russian regions, and
the out-migration of Russians to this periphery, the empire became increasingly
ethnically mixed and the share of all Russians living in the traditional core
in central Russia declined. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution brought brief
periods of independence for some of the non-Russian territories, but most were
soon brought back into the newly created Soviet Union. It was during the 1920s
and 1930s that most of what are now the 15 newly independent successor states
to the Soviet Union were established. In this period, dictator Joseph Stalin
was tightening his grip on Soviet society and economy, and the internal
passport system was introduced, requiring people to obtain permission before
migrating to different regions.
This state-directed policy on internal migration encouraged the movement of
ethnic Russians to the periphery of the Soviet Union. As a result, the percent
of Russians in the 14 non-Russian states doubled from 9.6 percent in 1926
to 19.6 percent in 1970, before falling to 18.2 percent by the last Soviet
census in 1989. The share of Russians living outside of Russia increased from
just seven percent of all Russians in the USSR in 1926 to 17 percent in 1989.
Russian Independence and Migration Reversals
For most of the Soviet period, there was out-migration from Russia to the
non-Russian states, but in 1975, this pattern was reversed. From that year
until the Soviet Union broke up, Russia was a net receiver of migrants from
what would become the other former Soviet Union (FSU) states. Just prior to the
Soviet collapse, the share that the 25.3 million Russians made up of the
non-Russian states varied considerably, from 37.8 percent of the population of
Kazakhstan to just 1.6 percent of Armenia. Of the Russians living outside
Russia, 11.4 million, or 45 percent, resided in Ukraine, whose inhabitants are
ethnically close to Russians. Another quarter, or 6.5 million, lived in the
more ethnically distant Kazakhstan, in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, Latvia,
Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan all had sizeable Russian populations of between 1.6
million and 900,000 while the remaining states all had less than a half million
Like migrants elsewhere in the world, Russians in the non-Russians states
tended to live disproportionately in urban areas and even more so in the
capitals of these states. While Russians constituted on average 16 percent of
the population of the non-Russian states, they made up 24 percent of the urban
populations and 30 percent of capital city residents. In the capitals of
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Latvia, Russians actually outnumbered the natives.
Thus, the capitals and other large cities of the non-Russian states were
Russian exclaves where Russians could enjoy their traditional cultural life,
speak their language freely, and never have to learn the local language.
Russians also enjoyed a privileged occupational status, making up
disproportionate shares of industrial enterprise managers, scientists,
professors, engineering-technical specialists, and other high-wage,
The breakup of the Soviet Union amounted to an abrupt upheaval in the
centuries-old history of Russian expansion, with huge consequences in terms of
migration. When the Soviet Union ceased to exist and Russia became an
independent state, established a liberal democracy, and started the transition
towards a market economy, little thought was given to the impact of these
policies on migration and other demographic trends. Insofar as they looked
ahead, policy makers had simply expected a post-breakup reconcentration of
ethnic groups into their homelands among the 15 post-Soviet states. While this
diaspora migration has accounted for a large portion of the migration
at both the national and sub-national levels, it has certainly not accounted
for all movements in the post-Soviet period.
New Incentives, Fewer Obstacles
Soviet planners had pursued the goal of keeping people in the Soviet Union and
of strictly controlling their population movements, often by coercion. This was
also accomplished, at least in part, by creating a closed economic space where
the standard of living was rather uniform among countries and regions.
Underpinning this policy was a massive system of subsidies and regional wage
coefficients that caused some sectors and regions to be "overvalued" and others
to be "undervalued" relative to what they would have been under market
The breakup of the Soviet Union devastated these controls by severing the
empire's economic ties, causing economic output to plunge. This, in turn, led
to a rapid widening of income gaps among the successor states and regions
within Russia, and very quickly precipitated a change in the migration
The economic incentives to migrate were accompanied by a relaxation of
traditionally tight borders. As Russian society was liberalized and some of the
restrictive vestiges of communist control were discarded, emigration to the
"far aboard" (the term used to designate countries outside the former Soviet
Union, whereas "near abroad" designates the Soviet successor states) was
allowed and the internal passport system was officially abolished (though such
Because Russia and the other successor states had been isolated from the
international community for so long, and migration had gone from being internal
to international overnight, they did not have mechanisms or institutions in
place to deal with population movements, including those of refugees and
internally displaced persons. Nor did they have the capacity to count them,
especially at a time when other state-building tasks were competing for
limited government capacity and funds. As a result, for a period after the
breakup of the Soviet Union, migration was quite fluid across rather porous
borders. Russia's ability to count such movements was better than most of the
other successor states, but was hardly perfect.
Reforming Migration Policy
Russian migration policy, another factor in the magnet equation, went through
several stages during the 1990s. When the Soviet Union broke up and the
economic transition began in 1992, Russia needed to fundamentally reform its
migration policy, legislation, and means for counting migrants, as it had
almost no legislative base or institutional experience in dealing with
refugees, international labor migration, freedom of movement, or permanent
migration to or from abroad.
Soon after independence, Russia also took a number of steps to join the
international community and adhere to international migration norms. Under the
1993 Russian Constitution, the internal passport system was abolished and freedom of
movement was granted, including the right to move permanently abroad. A law on
citizenship was introduced in February 1992 that granted Russian citizenship to
all those who resided permanently in Russia, and to all citizens of the former
USSR (including non-Russians) residing in the former Soviet republics who moved
to Russia and applied before 2000. In spite of this law, the policy towards the
diaspora was not to encourage a mass return to the Russian homeland, but rather
to protect their rights in the new countries where they resided.
Since President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000, he has shown much more
awareness of the country's demographic and migration problems and has proposed
or instituted policies to deal with them. In the late 1990s, the issue of
protecting the Russian diaspora declined in urgency and the importance of irregular
Russia's emerging migration policy must be viewed against the backdrop of
overall demographic decline in the country, which in many respects amounts to a
crisis. (For an in-depth look at the collision of Russia's demographic and
migration realities, please see the author's accompanying article in this
issue, Russia Beckons, But Diaspora Wary)
In spite of continued immigration, Russia's population has been declining for
much of the past decade after peaking at 148.7 million in 1992. By the
beginning of 2002, the population had fallen by 4.3 million from its peak to
144.0 million. Since 1992, the excess of deaths over births has been 7.7
million. Net immigration to the country of 3.6 million has compensated for less
than half of the natural decrease. In each of the last three years, the natural
decrease of the population has been over 900,000.
Given the slowdown in migration and continued low fertility and high mortality,
combined with an aging population, Russia's population decline is expected to
continue into the future. The possibly devastating impact of AIDS has not yet
accounted for a large share of the burden of disease, since the epidemic came
late to Russia, but with an estimated million or more people infected, its
impact on population growth could be enormous by the end of the decade.
This demographic crisis, coupled with the history mapped out above, has "set
the stage" for the four colossal migration issues in post-Soviet Russia: a
"brain drain" to the West; an influx of ethnic Russians, Russian-speakers, and
others to Russia from the other states of the former Soviet Union; the
depopulation of Siberia and the Far East; and large-scale immigration from
countries far beyond the boundaries of the Soviet empire.
Brain Drain and Trafficking to the "Far Abroad"
Total emigration to the "far aboard" from Russia has been far less than many
expected it would be once exit restrictions were lifted. However, the impact of
such movements has been deepened by the fact that many of the migrants are part
of Russia's well-educated, highly skilled elite.
Total migration from Russia to countries beyond the FSU since 1989 has
been 1.1 million, less than one percent of the 1989 population. Three
destination countries account for the bulk of the people migrating from Russia
to beyond the FSU -- Germany (57 percent), Israel (26 percent), and the United
States (11 percent). This is a change from the days before the Soviet collapse,
when about half of all people emigrating from Russia went to Israel (at least
as their first destination).
For the period 1995 to 1999, 45 percent of net migration consisted of Russians
of German descent, attracted to Germany by the generous resettlement package
for the aussiedler (ethnic Germans born abroad) and the strong pull of the
German economy (see the Germany country profile). The second-largest group
of emigrants was ethnic Russian, making up 36 percent, while Jews made up 13
percent of migrants. An estimated quarter of the Jewish population and half the
German population have left Russia since 1989.
Though emigration to the far abroad has not been that large, because of the
ethnic selectivity of this emigration stream, disproportionate numbers of
highly skilled people have chosen to leave. Jews made up disproportionate
shares of the country's engineers, physicians, scientific personnel, teachers,
and production and technical managers. Of Jewish emigrants from Russia, 21
percent have a college education against 13.3 percent for the country as a
whole. Of those leaving for Israel, 30 percent have a higher education, of
those to the United States, 42 percent.
Beyond the trend towards "brain drain," an additional troubling emigration
problem has emerged: a rise in the number of Russian women trafficked, nearly
all to the far abroad, and forced into prostitution. Because of the underground
and illegal nature of trafficking, exact numbers are difficult to obtain.
However, there are estimates of up to 500,000 Russian woman lured into sexual
slavery since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russian women fall victim to
trafficking for reasons similar to those found elsewhere in the world -- high
female unemployment and few job opportunities, an idealized view of life in the
West, and lack of enforcement and legislation against trafficking.
Returning to Russia
The majority of the migration turnover in Russia has been with the other FSU
successor states, and has been driven to a large extent by the ethnic
composition of those migration streams. Other key factors in this include
ethnic violence, which has resulted in steep drops in economic output.
The Soviet Union was, and the Russian Federation remains, a mosaic of
nationalities. There were 128 nationalities enumerated in the 1989 census, 55
with populations over 100,000. At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union,
there were 53 ethnic homelands, which were then incorporated into the 15
successor states to the Soviet Union. Including Russians, of the 15 major
nationalities, a total of 43.4 million people lived outside of their homelands
in 1989. Thus, it should not be surprising that when the Soviet Union broke up, significant ethnic unmixing followed, with many people believing
that their standard of living would be best in their own homeland thanks to
preferential access to better jobs, schools, and other resources.
Since 1989, there has been a total net immigration to Russia from the
non-Russian FSU states of 3.7 million. Immediately following the breakup of the
Soviet Union, there was a large wave of immigration, which has since subsided
substantially. Net immigration to Russia from the non-Russian states rose from
105,000 in 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union's existence, to a peak of
915,000 in 1994 before falling to just 124,000 in 2001, as the migration
momentum seems to have nearly exhausted itself.
Between Russia and the non-Russian states, the two states with the largest
Russian diaspora populations -- Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- accounted for the
largest shares of immigration between 1989 and 2000, with each contributing a
quarter of total immigrants. Overall, Central Asia (including Kazakhstan) has
been the source of about half of all migrants to Russia, the three
Transcaucasus states 15 percent, and the Baltics only four percent.
Ethnic Russians Remaining in FSU
When 25 million Russians found themselves suddenly members of minority groups
in 14 successor states that were often hostile to their existence, they
had several choices. One was to stay and accommodate themselves as minorities
in the newly independent states, which often meant learning local languages. In
cases where they were geographically concentrated in regions bordering Russia,
such as northern Kazakhstan or eastern Ukraine, some advocated attaching those
areas to Russia. A third choice was migration back to the homeland (although many had been born and lived their entire lives outside Russia).
In the 1989 USSR population census, a total of 25.3 million people living
outside of Russia stated that their nationality was Russian. Since that time,
there has been a net migration to Russia of 3.0 million Russians representing
12 percent of the diaspora population, or one in eight Russians living outside
A clear regional grouping emerges in terms of the percentages of Russians
residing in the non-Russian FSU states who have left each of the newly
independent states. From Armenia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, half or
more of the Russian populations have chosen migration as a strategy of
adaptation. It was also from these states that significant shares of the
various other nationalities living in diaspora have fled as well, because of
deteriorating economic conditions.
From two states, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, roughly a quarter of the Russian
populations have left, and from Kazakhstan, 18 percent. In the three Baltic
states and Moldova, between 10 and 13 percent of the Russian diaspora
populations have left, in spite of rather restrictive citizenship policies in
Latvia and Estonia. Only small portions of the Russians living in the other two
Slavic states of the FSU (Belarus and Ukraine) have returned. Turkmenistan,
with its oil and gas wealth, has not seen a great shrinking of its ethnic
Part of what these numbers reveal is that despite what seems like a
large-scale migration of Russians to Russia, the fact is most have not chosen
to move and approximately 22 million remain in the other FSU states.
The fact that Russians and other ethnic groups are choosing to migrate to
Russia should come as no surprise, given the economic divergence of these
states during the post-Soviet period. Of the 15 successor states, only
tiny Estonia has a higher gross national income per capita than that of Russia. Most of
the Central Asian and Transcaucasus states, as well as Ukraine and Moldova,
have incomes that are half or less than in Russia.
Ethnic Violence and Regional Conflict
A major push factor behind the migration of both Russians and non-Russians
seems to be ethnic violence, and resulting economic decline. Aside from the war
in Chechnya, most has not been aimed at Russians, but they are nevertheless
caught in the crossfire. Tajiks, Armenians, Georgians, and Azeris, pushed by
episodes of violence during the post-Soviet period in their ethnic homelands,
all moved in significant numbers, thereby significantly increasing their
population size in Russia.
Large numbers of Russians and other former Soviet citizens entered Russia as "forced
migrants," although many found it difficult to register as such. Russia acceded
to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 1992, enacted supporting
legislation in 1993, and established the Federal Migration Service in the 1990s
as the agency charged with implementation. Though the agency has been
eliminated, the concepts of "refugees" and "forced migrants" that Russia
adopted are still at odds with international refugee law. The concept of
"refugees" has been applied only to people not eligible for Russian
citizenship, and "forced migrants" has been applied to those persons with
Russian citizenship or those who could obtain Russian citizenship by virtue of
being former Soviet citizens (the latter including internally displaced
At the end of 2000, there were 667,000 persons registered as refugees or forced
migrants from the other FSU states and only 9,710 refugees from non-FSU states,
down from previous years, as many had obtained Russian citizenship and lost
their forced migrant status. Most forced migrants arrived either from Central
Asia or the Caucasus, including about 600,000 persons displaced during the
first war in Chechnya between 1994 and 1996. About one-third, mostly Chechens,
have since returned. As a result of the second Chechen war, which started in
1999, there are nearly a half million displaced within Russia, most in
neighboring regions around Chechnya.
Critics believe that, given the lack of complete control over its external
borders and the chaotic situation in some of its neighboring FSU states, it was
premature of Russia to accede to the refugee convention. Of the refugees in Russia, most enter the country legally and then overstay their
visas. The refugee law was revised in 1997 to reduce the burden on the state
for caring for these people and made more restrictive, similar to the laws of
Western European countries.
There is a large and growing undocumented population in Russia, pushed there by
factors such as underdevelopment in their own countries, the large underground
economy in Russia that they can disappear into, higher standards of living,
lack of enforcement, Russia's long porous borders, and its adherence to
the UN refugee convention. The ease with which people can travel through
Central Asia to Russia is often cited as the major source of the increased drug
trafficking in the country.
The Depopulation of Siberia
As a result of Soviet regional development policies, Siberia and the Far East
became the site of many narrowly specialized industrial settlements. The
majority of Russia's fuel and energy resources, as well as other strategic raw
materials, are located in this northern periphery. Together, the regions
officially defined as the "North," which constitutes much of the European
north, Siberia, and the Far East, make up 70 percent of Russia's territory, but
contain less than eight percent of the population.
Under the market conditions that are emerging in Russia, the previous level and
type of development of the northern regions has proved to be unsustainable. The
dramatically rising cost of living and the shrinking economy resulted in mass
out-migration from the northern regions to Russia and the other FSU states.
Between 1989 and 2001, from the 16 regions that are defined as the "Far
North," over 12 percent of the population migrated out of the region. From
seven of these regions, over 20 percent have left. At the extreme are two
regions in the far northeast, Magadan and Chukotka, that have respectively seen
43 and 61 percent of their populations leave the regions in the past decade.
Many people who wish to leave the north, however, do not have the means to do
so, creating an enormous social problem for Russia.
As a result of the depopulation of the Siberian and Far Eastern periphery and
the opening up of Russia's borders, there is a fear of massive Chinese
immigration into the region followed by annexation of parts of the Far East to
China. Unfounded estimates given by local officials in this region (the last,
historically, to be incorporated into Russia) are that up to two million
Chinese live illegally in the southern regions of the Far East. This fear is
based on the simple demographic fact that there are five million people in the
regions bordering China in the southern Far East, and 110 million Chinese in
the three regions bordering Russia. Some worry that the demographic imbalance
will cause the Chinese to spread into Russia. However, the local
officials' estimates are wildly exaggerated; the little research that has been
done in the region indicates a Chinese population in the Russian Far East of
100,000 to 300,000.
Attempts to tie the region in with the more prosperous Pacific Rim countries
have not produced the desired results, and the regional economy continues to
stagnate. Meanwhile, efforts to induce people within Russia or returnees from
aboard to settle in the Far East, "where they are needed," according to Putin,
Some favor increased Chinese migration into the region, citing the fact that
Chinese shuttle traders occupy an important economic niche with imports of
inexpensive food, clothing, and other consumer goods, while also filling an
important labor market niche by taking unskilled jobs in construction and
agriculture. They maintain that the demographic imbalance is unnatural, and
that increased migration is unavoidable and necessary in order to develop the
resources of the Far East.
Those opposed to further Chinese migration underscore the fact that the Far
East is a crucially important region, being Russia's naval outlet to the
Pacific and storehouse of large amounts of strategic minerals. They allege that
if migration continues, there may be up to 8-10 million Chinese residing in
Russia as a whole by 2010. This would make the Chinese Russia's second-largest
However, more careful assessments based on discussions with local officials,
analysis of data from local migration offices, and eyewitness observations,
place the totals closer to 100,000-300,000 Chinese in the region, most arriving
under rather closely monitored labor contracts. It appears that the Chinese
have more of an interest in shuttle trade than long-term residence. In fact, there are probably more Chinese in
Moscow than there are in the Far East.
Russia as Migration Magnet
Russia has become a "migration magnet" for both legal and undocumented immigrants.
Estimating the scope of illegal migration to Russia, however, has been
difficult. Arriving at a meaningful definition of who is an illegal immigrant
is even harder in Russia then elsewhere because of the legal status of the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose confederation of 12 former
Soviet countries. The consensus estimates are of 3.0 to 3.5 million illegal
migrants in Russia, with plausible estimates of up to six million. China,
Vietnam, Korea, other Asian countries, and Africa are common source countries
for the undocumented.
Some of these people see Russia as a destination, while others view the huge
Russian area as a transit point for reaching Western Europe. Since most are
denied refugee status, they are considered illegal migrants, and are denied the
right to work and access to social services. There are many such people from
Africa, the Middle East, and the Asian countries along Russia's southern
borders. Many slip in by taking advantage of Russia's adherence to the Bishkek
Agreement, which opened visa-free travel among CIS states.
The high-side estimates actually call into question the reality of Russia's
demographic crisis. If all six million people are included in the total,
Russia's population may not actually be declining after all. If the 3-3.5
million estimate is correct, undocumented immigrants make up approximately the
same percentage of the Russian population as they do, by the most commonly
given figures, in the United States.
Migration Debates and Russia's Future
As with other migration destination countries, there is a vigorous debate
underway in Russia as to how much migration should be allowed. At present, the
anti-immigration side seems to be ascendant -- but demographic projections paint
a dire picture that could temper policies to limit new immigrants.
For its part, the pro-immigration side asserts that Russia needs more people to
make up for a demographic shortfall and to stimulate economic development. In
these respects, Russia's declining and simultaneously aging population is not
unlike that in various Western countries with low, below-replacement fertility.
Like Russia, many of these countries are considering "replacement migration,"
that is, international migration to offset population decline and aging. The
primary backers of more immigration are social liberals.
Certain realities seem to support the pro-immigration lobby. For example, in
the absence of immigration, in order to maintain the same ratio of workers to
pensioners, it would be necessary to raise the retirement age to 73 -- a
politically unpopular proposition in a country where the current life
expectancy for both sexes combined is now just 65.
In fact, one way that Russia differs from most other countries, and may
actually have an advantage, is that with an estimated 22 million Russians in
the non-Russian states, it has a large pool of educated people who share the
language and culture of Russia. This could potentially ease their integration.
The anti-immigration lobby -- which currently seems to be winning the debate --
maintains that there are already too many "foreigners" in the country, claims
that most engage in criminal activities, and insists that their incorporation
into Russian society is problematic. Along these lines of thought, the Federal Migration Service was
abolished in 2000 and its duties folded first into the Ministry of Federal
Affairs, Nationalities, and Migration Policy, and then in May 2002 into the
Ministry of Interior (which controls the police force). During its existence,
the Federal Migration Service was chronically under-funded and felt by many to be too weak to regulate migration in a new, more liberal setting. By
giving migration regulation to the Ministry of Interior, some see a willingness
to rely more on force to manage Russia's complex immigration scenario.
In a similar vein, laws have been revised to limit immigration and its costs.
The refugee law was revised in 1997 to reduce the burden on the state for
caring for these people, and was made more restrictive and similar to the laws
of Western European countries. In May 2002, a strict new citizenship law was
passed designed to help curb illegal migration, replacing the old law, which
was so lax that it lured people hoping to get citizenship. The new law requires
a five-year residency period in Russia, demonstrable fluency in Russian, and
evidence of a legal job. The law does not give any special preference to
Russians in the other FSU states, on the premise that with the slowdown in
migration, all those Russians who might return to Russia have already done so.
Other new strict migration legislation includes requiring two-part migration
cards for foreigners arriving in Russia starting on November 1, 2002. The first
part will be retained by Ministry of Interior authorities, while the second
will remain with the foreigner to confirm his or her right to be in Russia.
Authorities in Moscow, the destination of so much illegal migration in the
country, want to create a database of all city residents by the end of 2003 in
order to track local demographic trends and migration to the city.
Looking ahead, Russian migration will be affected by the impending European
Union expansion, especially as a result of a rather peculiar geographic
situation. When the EU expands, visas will be required of citizens of
non-member states. This will mean that residents of Kaliningrad (the Russian
exclave of 950,000 people on the Baltic Sea, bordered by Poland and Lithuania,
both candidates for EU membership), will be required to obtain visas in order to
travel to the rest of Russia. This former piece of German territory, know as
Koenigsberg, was seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
Russia finds the idea of these mandatory visas unthinkable, a situation
compounded by the fact that President Putin's wife is from the region. Various
proposals have been suggested to deal with this development, including allowing
Russians from Kaliningrad to travel without visas through Lithuania, a
situation to which the EU is unlikely to consent. One somewhat impractical idea
has been to move the Russians in special sealed train cars. The debate
continues, but the deadline for a solution is looming.
Some of the difficulties associated with formulating sound migration policy may
be relieved by better basic information in the form of Russia's first
post-Soviet population census. This was originally scheduled for 1999,
following the schedule of previous Soviet censuses. However, it was delayed due
to lack of funding and will finally take place in October 2002. Given Russia's
size, importance, and the enormous demographic changes of the past decade, the
results are eagerly anticipated.
Among the changes from previous censuses will be the inclusion of a separate
section consisting of seven questions for those persons temporarily in Russia,
who permanently reside outside the country, including questions on place of
birth and permanent residence, citizenship, nationality, and purpose for being
in Russia. The goal of these questions is to attempt to estimate the extent of
illegal migration, and define various characteristics of the people involved.
In this undertaking, Russia will certainly face the same problems encountered
by other countries in the region.
According to the most recent set of United Nations population projections, the
population of Russia in 2050 will be 113 million according to the high
scenario, 104 million in the medium, and 96 million in the low. Most of these
projections do not fully incorporate the full impact of possible AIDS mortality
in Russia, which has had one of the steepest infection rates in the world in
the past few years. Others project the population of Russia to fall to 70
million by mid-century.
Using these UN population projections as the basis for a
feasibility study on replacement migration, researchers found that in order for Russia to maintain the
same population size as in 1995, there would have to be a net migration of 24.9
million in the first half of the 21st century. For the size of the working-age
population to stay the same, there would have to be a net migration of 35.8
million. Even the lower figure assumes that the entire Russian diaspora in the
non-Russian states would return, implying an average annual influx of between
500,000 and 700,000. Such hopes must be looked at in the context of recent peak
migration of 810,000, and the drastically reduced 2001 net migration of just
While it appears likely that Russia's migration balance will continue to be
positive, much of the post-Soviet migration appears to have been exhausted.
Thus, the possibilities of maintaining the current demographic balance through
migration appear slim, unless Russia wants to begin recognizing and
assimilating the massive illegal population that currently resides in the
country. Most countries with long histories of immigration have had difficulty
pulling off similar feats. For Russia to do so would put a quite different
literal and figurative face on the Russian population.
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and Central Asia: 2001-2002 Review, 2002.
State Committee on Statistics of the Russian Federation website
Timothy Heleniak is with the World Bank and is an adjunct professor in the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University. During the 2001-2002 academic year, he was a fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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