Russia Eases Immigration Controls for Highly Skilled Migrants


To help stem interethnic tension, dubbed “a threat to Russia’s national security” by President Dmitry Medvedev, the Federal Migration Service is focusing on two main policies for 2011: better integration of immigrants already living on Russian territory, and raising the level of employability of those who come in the future. The aim is for Russia’s migrants to be both highly qualified and “well-behaved”.

The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • Russia is suffering from a significant brain drain, with much local talent fleeing to more lucrative labour markets in the West. Nearly 1 million people have left Russia in the past decade, and around 80% were highly qualified specialists (25,000 PhD holders have left Russia in the last few decades). This puts pressure on Russia’s labour markets and results in labour shortages – particularly of highly skilled workers.
  • The number of workers in the most highly skilled professions and occupations is declining rapidly. For example, the number of people employed in machine-tool engineering has fallen by a startling 93% in the past 20 years. Even assuming that industry had been overstaffed in the Soviet era, a 93% reduction is insupportable. As a result, the skills of the Russian population are declining.
  • Reliance on imported labour is complicated by the recent surge in ethnic tension in Russia. This has forced the authorities to rethink the country’s immigration policies to balance the interests of closing talent gaps with those of maintaining social order and cohesion.
  • Russia has introduced a new policy of denying visas to foreigners who have broken Russian laws more than twice. Federal Migration Service Director Konstantin Romodanovsky noted: “In mid-2010, we began experimenting with denying entry into Russia for foreigners who have repeatedly violated immigration rules by, for example, engaging in illegal employment. In this case we have the right to deny entry for three years.”
  • Russia also introduced measures to attract highly skilled foreign workers in an effort to modernize the economy and diversify away from commodity exports. A bill signed into law in July 2010 that grants special three-year visas to “highly qualified specialists” (those who earn more than US$ 66,000 a year) will be extended to create more favourable conditions to a wider category of high-calibre foreign workers.
  • Denied entry to “badly behaved” migrants
    • The migration service said 30,000 people were denied entry to Russia in November and December under the new policy and around 10,000 a month were expected to be refused entry in 2011.
  • Attract highly skilled workers
    • This is new legislation, but experts tend to agree that the number of highly qualified foreign specialists in Russia will increase in the coming years.
    • Romodanovsky expects the number of foreign specialists coming to work in Russia, currently 20,000 a year, to increase to 50,000 in 2011.
Why has it worked?: 
  • For specialists, the visa process will be simpler. As of last spring, foreign specialists are now eligible for three-year work visas with a possibility of extension on one condition: an employment contract with a Russian company ensuring an annual salary of at least RUB 2 million (approximately US$ 64,000). Such a visa will also allow specialists to bring their families along. If the income under the contract is below RUB 2 million, the visa will be valid for only one year.
  • The deadline for migrant registration has also been pushed back. Highly qualified specialists are now granted a grace period of 90 days to choose their place of registration, which can be either a company office or a residential building.
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • Countries faced with brain drain and lacking sufficient local talent to avoid shortages of highly skilled workers must facilitate entry of imported labour by easing visa requirements and streamlining processes that deter migration.
  • Such efforts can be successful even as tight screening measures ensure that migration is focused on specific highly skilled jobs and impose conditions for good behaviour.
Foundational Issues: 
Public and private constraints on mobility
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 2: Collaboration across organizations within a country
Economic and political context: 
  • According to the Russian Federal Migration Service, there are about 15 million immigrants currently living in Russia, the majority illegally. Most of them are from former Soviet republics.
  • Russia is in a period of massive population decline, decreasing by 700,000 per year and in need of 1 million immigrants per year to maintain economic growth. Projections indicate that the period from 2006 to 2015 will see a decrease in the working age population by 10 million, or 1% per year. Many believe immigration is the only likely source of population growth in Russia.
About the Author(s): 

Russia’s new policies were enacted under President Dmitry Medvedev and Federal Migration Service Director Konstantin Romodanovsky.