Foreign migrant workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in Russia, with large numbers losing employment amidst the economic downturn. In a survey conducted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in April-May 2020, 75 percent of surveyed migrants reported having lost their jobs or being forced into unpaid leave, while 50 percent reported that they had lost all sources of income.
Citing these statistics at a meeting in August, the Deputy Head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated that high unemployment rates amongst migrant workers “creates a very fertile environment for the growth of crime potentially in this area.” Medvedev suggested that Russia implement changes to its immigration system that would make it harder for migrants to gain work permits. In particular, he proposed imitating the Kafala system (a visa-sponsorship system), which is widely used across the Gulf. “In the Arab world, there are appropriate solutions where the employer is fully responsible for the actions of a foreign citizen whom he hired to work,” he said. “This is a tough measure, but nevertheless it should probably be discussed.” Many UN experts and independent observers, however, have heavily criticized the Kafala system for leading to widespread rights abuses because it leaves migrant workers vulnerable to abuse by employers as well as to arrest, detention, and deportation.
For some Russian officials, however, Covid-related declines in the number of migrant workers (due in part to people returning to their home countries) are creating growing concerns about labour shortages. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, for example, has warned that the city’s labour market would inevitably be affected. Noting that as of October 2020 the number of foreign migrants in the city had dropped by 40 percent this year, he said, “This affects the labor market, especially those positions that are temporarily occupied, such as snow removal. This is manual labor: shovel, broom, scrap. Not all Muscovites are ready to work in such jobs.” According to Sobyanin, these jobs will be filled by residents of other Russian regions.
Despite issuing a moratorium on new detention orders in April (see 18 April update on this platform), media reports indicate that authorities have continued to raid areas where migrant workers are known to congregate. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the first two weeks of August authorities initiated a series of raids, round-ups, and detentions of migrant workers near the Tyoply Stan market in Moscow. Reportedly, the raids largely targeted Tajik migrant workers, in retaliation for a 1 August incident in which Tajik workers dragged a Tajik migrant from a police car following his arrest. According to HRW’s sources, “hundreds” were detained during these raids. Raids were also conducted in Saint Petersburg in October, with officers conducting house searches in districts including Kirovsky and Krasnogvardeisky.
- Human Rights Watch, “As Russia Faces an Economic Downturn, Migrant Workers are Paying the Price,” 9 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/09/russia-faces-economic-downturn-migrant-workers-are-paying-price
- Interfax, “Власти РФ обеспокоены преступностью среди безработных мигрантов,” 3 August 2020, https://www.interfax.ru/russia/720110
- Kommersant, “Россия может усложнить правила въезда трудовых мигрантов,” 3 August 2020, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4441825
- Tass News, “Рынок “Теплый стан” закрыт в Москве из-за спецоперации по борьбе с нелегальными мигрантами,” 11 August 2020, https://tass.ru/proisshestviya/9172709
- Moscow 24, “Собянин заявил о снижении мигрантов в Москве на 40%,” 18 October 2020, https://www.m24.ru/news/mehr-Moskvy/18102020/137511
- Телеканал “Санкт-Петербург,” “15 нелегальных мигрантов нашли во время рейда в Петербурге,” 31 October 2020, https://topspb.tv/news/2020/10/31/15-nelegalnyh-migrantov-nashli-vo-vremya-rejda-v-peterburge/