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Migration policy | Russian Federation |

Russian Federation Background Trends Migration policy Integration policy Irregular migration Refuge and asylum Citizenship Future Challenges References

Migration policy

Maria Nozhenko

/ 6 Minuten zu lesen

The basis for Russia´s current migration policy was laid in the early 1990s. Legislative acts in Russia can be differentiated into "concepts" and "laws". Concepts state the general principles of regulations, while laws lay down concrete realizations of such principles. Thus, the importance of concepts is similar to the importance of laws in many other countries, and Russian laws often encompass features that Western states would leave to administrative regulations.

In 1992, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) was created in response to the mass movements of people following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1993, the laws "On Refugees" and "On Forced Migrants" were adopted, but policies were not very effective, due to a lack of experience and expertise in managing migration flows which were not state-initiated or state-approved as well as the general chaos caused by the transitional process in the country´s economic, social and political spheres.

In the late 1990s, attention turned to the issue of irregular labour migrants from the CIS countries (see also "Irregular Migration"). At the time, Russian experts estimated that three to four million migrants were working in the country illegally. In order to legalize these labour migrants, an attempt was made to adopt the Concept of the State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation, which was to lay the basis for stabilizing migration processes and conveying positive messages about migrants and their economic contributions to the general population. However, this and other attempts to legalize labour migration were ineffective, due to the scale of the shadow economy and informal labour market. In 2000, the FMS was abolished and responsibility for migration matters handed over to the Ministry of Federation and Ethnic Policy, which itself was abolished a year later.

In 2002 the FMS was re-established, not as an independent structure, but as a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. For the next several years, migration was treated as a security issue, in line with popular public perceptions of migrants as potential criminals. The number of staff at FMS grew rapidly, from 3.000 at the beginning to 18.000 by 2006. There is a lack of transparency with regard to which tasks the additional staff members are primarily deployed. At the same time, its relations with migrant-supporting NGOs deteriorated and cooperation with academic experts was minimal. In 2002 the law On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens on the Territory of the Russian Federation was adopted. This law was eagerly anticipated as a tool for legalizing irregular migrants, setting transparent procedures for migration control and granting legal status for different groups of migrants. Instead of meeting these expectations, it established a number of bureaucratic barriers complicating the procedures for registering foreign citizens and introducing a quota for foreign workers from non-CIS countries. The subsequent yearly reduction in the quota led to an increase in the number of irregular migrants and a growth of corruption. The policy drew strong criticism from NGOs, human rights organizations and the scientific community, aimed not only at the authorities´ activities, but also at the law´s negative impact on public opinion towards migrants.The xenophobia in Russia today is in many respects the consequence of Russian migration policy from 2002 to 2005.

Starting in 2006, there was a radical shift towards liberalization in Russian migration policy. In the face of a declining and aging population, Russian authorities began to consider migrants as an important resource for economic and demographic development. Policy reforms were directed primarily at regulating immigration from FSU states. For foreign citizens from the 10 FSU countries that signed agreements on visa-free entrance with Russia, the procedures for registering and acquiring work permits were facilitated. As a result, more than 1.2 million work permits were issued to migrant workers from the CIS countries, twice the number issued in 2006 and three times the number issued in 2005.

Other changes in this period included the introduction of a centralized database for the registration of foreign citizens and for border movements. Additionally, Russia began cooperating with the European Union in the field of migration, adopting the EU-Russia Road Map for the Common Space of Freedom, Internal Security and Justice in May 2005. The most visible effects of this cooperation are two EU-Russia agreements concerning visa facilitation and readmission, which were signed in 2006 and came into force in June 2007.

Kaliningrad transit

One specific Russian migration issue concerns transit migration to and from Kaliningrad oblast, the Russian exclave in the Baltic region. The most direct land route between the main part of Russia and Kaliningrad oblast runs through the territory of Lithuania, a former USSR republic. During the 1990s the issue was solved by an interim agreement between Russia and Lithuania, which was signed in early 1995. This agreement allowed all citizens of the Russian Federation permanently residing in Kaliningrad oblast to spend up to 30 days on Lithuanian territory and to travel through it without a visa. All Russian citizens (and also the citizens of other states) could travel to Kaliningrad oblast on the trains running through Lithuanian territory without a special permit.

However, Lithuania´s accession to the EU in 2004 put the Kaliningrad question on the agenda once again, because, according to the EU visa regulations, third country nationals (which include Russians) are required to have visas to enter the EU or to travel through its territory. In September 2002 the European Commission adopted a Communication that led to the introduction of a special Facilitated Transit Document (FTD), issued to those Russian citizens who need to travel frequently to and from Kaliningrad. This document is free and can be issued on trains; however, Russian citizens have to buy train tickets in advance, because of the time needed to prepare the FTD.

Russian Policy on Compatriots Abroad

Mass ethnic migration after the collapse of the USSR put the issue of compatriots abroad (the Russian-speaking population in the FSU countries; ) on Russia´s political agenda. In the beginning, the policy on compatriots had two aims:

  1. Facilitation of the return of "old" emigrants (who emigrated after the 1917 revolution and during the Soviet period to the "far abroad") and their descendants, including their re-acquisition of citizenship,

  2. Prevention of members of the Russian-speaking population of the former Soviet Republics from migrating to Russia.

To further the second objective, measures were introduced in 1994 to provide economic, social and cultural support to those living in the FSU countries.

The first legal definition of Russian compatriots was given only in May 1999 in the Law on the State Policy of the Russian Federation Concerning the Compatriots Abroad. Basically, the descendants of former citizens of Russia and of the USSR, who were ethnic Russians or ethnic Tatars, were recognized as "compatriots" because they didn´t have any other state then Russia which could declare its responsibility to protect their cultural rights. At the same time, the descendants of ethnic Armenians, Germans, or Jews, who also were nationals of the USSR, were excluded from recognition as compatriots because they could be protected by other states (Germany or Israel etc.).

In 2002 the official discourse on compatriots abroad gradually started to change. Whereas the inflow of these migrants had long been considered a "problem", it was slowly being perceived as a resource to counteract negative economic and demographic developments.

It is important to note that the majority of ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking people who decided to move to Russia did so before a proper framework for these movements was developed. Initially, these persons were only awarded the status of "forced migrant" (vynuzhdenny pereselenets, see Refuge and Asylum). The first real migration framework was approved only in 2006: "The National Programme for Supporting Voluntary Migration of the Compatriots Residing Abroad to the Russian Federation". This Programme clearly prioritized Russia´s own economic and demographic interests, by introducing a resettlement plan to distribute new arrivals across areas where they were most needed, providing them with some benefits on the condition that they stay in these regions for at least two years.

The program has been unsuccessful: the actual number of people who moved to Russia in 2007 was 682 compared with the target of 23.000 persons for that year. In the mid-2000s, experts estimated that there were between 2.4 million and 4 million people living in the FSU states who could be eligible to migrate under the program. However, 15 years after the collapse of the USSR, most people who wanted to move to Russia from other regions had already done so. Those who remained abroad have since developed their own adaptive strategies. Furthermore, the unveiled motive for the repatriation of compatriots (i.e. to solve Russian domestic problems, not address issues faced by compatriots abroad) likely alienated potential migrants.



  1. Ivakhnyuk (2009), p. 30.

  2. Ibid, p. 32.

  3. Ibid, p. 35.

  4. Ibid, p. 38.

  5. All foreign citizens who came to Russia for more than three days have to register with the authorities.

  6. Ivakhnyuk (2009), p.57.

  7. For more information see: Nozhenko M. (2006).

  8. See: The National Human Development Report (2008), p. 93.

  9. Mukomel V. (2004), Rybakovsky L., Rayzantsev S. (2005), p. 9.

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