Russia ponders over amnesty for illegal immigrants

There are only two ways of combating illegal immigration: legalization or deportation. Source: RIA Novosti

There are only two ways of combating illegal immigration: legalization or deportation. Source: RIA Novosti

Many experts believe that it is far most cost-effective to legalize immigrants than to deport them.

The issue of illegal immigration has been at the forefront of Russia's domestic politics in recent months. In response, Unity in Diversity, an international conference on migration and interethnic relations was held in Moscow to discuss the need to integrate immigrants into all spheres of Russian society.

The conference discussed various options for integrating immigrants into Russian society. The head of the centre for interethnic relations studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology, Leokadiya Drobizheva, proposed setting up adaptation centres for immigrants, where they will be taught not only the Russian language and basic Russian laws but also Russian traditions and customs in order to defuse some of the irritation they provoke among the local population.

The head of the research centre for socio-economic population studies under the Moscow Psychology and Sociology University, Olga Vorobyeva, believes that “the authorities themselves are breeding illegal immigration.” Excessive demand in migrant labour, the expert points out, is the result of an inefficient economy:  “One could introduce quotas, limits, put up barbed wire, but immigrants will continue to come because there is work for them here and they are wanted.”

Migrant workers currently account for 7.56 percent of Russian GDP (or 8.3 billion roubles). Furthermore, Russia will soon have to deal with the consequences of the demographic crisis of the 1990s, when the population shrank by a million a year. It is expected that by 2050, there will be a 10-million-strong shortage of labour force, which confirms that the Russian economy needs migrant workers in order to develop.

Hence the need to refocus the country's migration policy: experts believe that business in Russia should operate in the open and migrant workers should be granted legal status.

The Federal Migration Service has recently submitted a draft law to the State Duma which proposes replacing migrant worker quotas with limits for each sector of the economy. If the bill is adopted, the cancellation of quotas will cut administrative barriers and put an end to the corrupt practice whereby intermediaries take on migrant workers in exchange for bribes. Thus, for instance, if the construction sector gets a limit of 30 percent of migrant labour, a construction company can give 30 out of each 100 jobs to foreigners. However, it is not quite clear how these limits are to be calculated.

Yet, the most acute problem is what is to be done with migrant workers who are already in Russia. Nobody knows for sure how many of them are currently living in the country. Approximate data vary from 3.6 to 11 million people, most of whom work in Russia illegally.

According to the head of the Institute of Migration Policy, Olga Gulina, there are only two ways of combating illegal immigration: legalization or deportation. European countries have long discovered that deportation is too expensive, she adds. That is why one of the possible ways of changing the situation could be an immigration amnesty to be developed taking into account the experience of countries which have already conducted it, like the United States, Greece, Italy, France and Australia.

An immigration amnesty envisages a mass legalization of immigrants, provided a number of conditions are met: an immigrant must have an employment contract, must register with the tax service and must get an individual taxpayer's number (INN). For its part, an employer must obtain a migration policy for its employee that would include medical insurance, third-party insurance, and cover the cost of deporting the migrant worker in question should they break Russian laws.

An immigration amnesty will be in employers' interests too since they will no longer have to pay any intermediaries and corruption will be taken out of the equation. At the same time migrant workers will start paying taxes into the Russian budget.  Experts point out that, apart from everything else, immigrants will value their legal status, which will bring the number of violations and crimes down, too.

Based on articles in Kommersant and Moskovsky Komsomolets newspapers.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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