Migration shaping the economic and political development of Eurasia

Russia is the fourth most important destination country with about ten million immigrants, but it is also a key country of origin for migration. How will migration affect the countries of the former Soviet Union and the development of their neighbouring countries?

ALEKSANTERI INSIGHT 3/2021. In the post-Soviet era, societal change in Russia has been influenced by global phenomena and interaction, as well as changes in people's mobility. This interdependence has exceeded traditional spheres of interest and influenced the emergence of new ones. The Eurasian region is one of the most important stages of global migration, and Russia is one of the main destinations for today's labour migrants. One important consequence has been a lasting and broad-based shadow economy in the Russian labour market. In the shadow economy, the challenges of Russia's competitiveness are intertwined with the goals of internal security and foreign policy. The Eurasian states are closely linked because of migration. In 2019 for instance, Russia was the fourth most important destination country with about ten million immigrants, but also a key country of origin for migration. The majority of Russian migrant workers are from Central Asia. This group's contribution to the Russian economy has been estimated at more than 10% of the entire Russian economy. Migration also brings stability to the contemporary political systems in the countries of origin, as internal economic and social pressures are discharged through migration.

Russian migration and citizenship legislation have undergone a significant change since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia makes up a visa-free zone with the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. For example, citizens of Kyrgyzstan, who come from a member country of the Eurasian Union led by Russia, have, in principle, equal rights in the Russian labour market. Since 1995, the citizens of Tajikistan and Russia have been entitled to dual citizenship in these countries. However, for most migrants, working and living in Russia requires the registration of temporary residence and a work permit, among other things. Bureaucracy and costs related to obtaining the official documents have been one of the major reasons for unofficial practices and corruption around the shadow economy.

Migration itself has also changed. For those migrant workers who have arrived in recent years, the situation no longer means abandoning their own country and culture in the traditional sense. Mobile technology has created cross-border and vital networks among immigrants, in which they both maintain and change their own culture. Most migrants also return to their home countries, which is why migration in the Eurasian region is characterised by a permanent revolving-door motion. This is probably also one of the reasons why immigrants do not organise themselves very often.

Migration also raises diverse opinions in Russia. The migration-related threat scenarios raised elsewhere in the world are also a topic of discussion in Russia. These threats relate to the economy, culture, fundamental national values, integration, race and religion. The debates highlight the need to protect domestic labour and to combat the negative effects of multiculturalism and the spread of cross-border crime through immigrant communities. Much less has been said about the shadow economy itself and its root causes. The short-sighted profitability of the shadow economy is linked to the political challenges of authoritarian regimes. This link maintains the structural problems of the regional labour market, which would require joint solutions in the Eurasian region, and hinders the economic and social development of the countries of origin, which is difficult without political changes.

Anna-Liisa Heusala, Doctor of Social Sciences, University Lecturer in Russian and Eurasian Studies, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki