Russia’s demographic problem

Moscow, Russia (Andrey Filippov, CC BY 2.0)

For years, Russia has been compensating its own population decrease by leaving its borders open for migration from “donor countries” in the former Soviet Union.

This migration policy has been working quite well, that is until now. The latest statistics on migration to Russia show the lowest numbers since the fall of the Soviet Union. The data comes from the Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). According to the Institute’s latest report, in 2018, a total of 124,900 foreign workers migrated to Russia. The data shows also that in each quarter of 2018, with the exception of the Q1, the inflow of workers was just under half as high as a year earlier.

Last year, the total amount of people living in Russia decreased by 4 per cent y/y. Moreover, the number of people leaving Russia increased by nearly 17 per cent y/y.

According to the report, the fall in number of foreign workers coming to Russia presents a major problem for the country’s demography. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has been compensating its decreasing population by attracting foreign workers. This strategy worked until 2017, when the amount of arrivals fully compensated for Russia’s population decline, and even increased the country’s overall population by 77,000 people.

“In 2018, the amount of arriving foreign workers was able to make up for only 57,2 per cent of Russia’s population decline in that year,” the report says. There were decreases in the amount of foreign workers coming from all post-soviet states, with the exception of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkmenistan. The highest drop in the amount of incoming workers to Russia was recorded in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, formerly the largest “donor countries” of foreign workers.

Although there was a short-term influx of workers coming from Ukraine, immediately after the events of 2014-2015, which supported migration growth to Russian in that period, this migration stream soon came to a halt. There are still around 3 million Ukrainians living in Russia, making it the single largest expat Ukrainian community, but in recent years more and more Ukrainians have chosen Poland over Russia.

According to various estimates, between 7 and 9 million Ukrainians are currently working abroad. An increasingly large portion of those leaving the eastern European country opt to go to Poland where the minimum wage is several times higher than in Ukraine.

Growing desire to leave Russia

As if the falling numbers in immigration rates to Russia wasn’t bad enough for the country’s demographic situation, another survey shows a record amount of Russians wanting to leave their country of birth.

According to the prestigious American analytics and advisory firm Gallup, a new high of one in five Russians (20 per cent) say that they would like to leave Russia if they could.

“While not all of these Russians will move, the higher desire in recent years should concern Moscow. Larger potential migration numbers could accelerate the population decline, and losses could potentially exceed the 8 per cent of the population that the United Nations currently projects Russia to lose by 2050,” the study says.

Since 2014, the percentage of working-age Russian citizens who say they would like to move abroad has at least tripled. The largest growth has been recorded among those of 15-29 year old, going from 14 per cent to 44 per cent.

According to Gallup, most Russians who desire to migrate to a foreign country think primarily of an EU member state as their preferred destination (40 per cent), followed by Northern America (16 per cent). Within the EU, the most appealing country for potential Russian migrants is Germany (15 per cent).

Solution

Besides encouraging Russian families to produce more offspring, the Russian government has been trying to reverse the declining population by making Russia more attractive for foreign workers. According to the business daily Kommersant, the Kremlin plans to attract up to 10 million Russian-speaking migrants over the period of the next six years to tackle the country’s demographic crisis.

Indicating the seriousness of the issue at hand, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed an Executive Order on Russia’s state migration policy concept for 2019-2025. “In light of the need to update the goals, tasks and key priorities of the Russian Federation in the area of migration, the President resolved to approve the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019–2025,” the document reads. According to anonymous sources cited by Kommersant, the plan is to grant citizenships to somewhere between 5 and 10 million migrants.

Kommersant further reported that there are a number of regulations intended to simplify citizenship and immigration rules currently being debated in the State Duma.

As it seems from the data provided, the Russian government will have to be engaged in a two front war to alleviate the current demographic crisis. It’ll not only have to find ways to attract more foreign workers to come to Russia, but will also have to introduce incentives to those Russians considering leaving Russia to stay in their country of origin.

Filip Brokeš is an analyst and a journalist specializing in international relations.

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