Possible Consequences of the Russian Language Law for Immigrants


It is obvious that life in large cities, including Moscow, is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the local population, because the number of immigrants is growing, and young people who have little or no command of Russian constitute an increasing proportion among them.

Starting December 1, 2012, all immigrants and stateless persons in Russia will have to pass a language test to be able to receive or extend a labor permit. This provision affects immigrants who work in the housing and utilities sector, retail trade and services.

Valdaiclub.com discussed the new law with Alexei Miller, a professor at the Central European University (Budapest) and a leading research fellow at the Institute for Scientific Information in Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Speaking about the language law, Miller said that we need a system of legislative measures that would encourage immigrants to study Russian and would create the conditions for this. However, the adopted law lacks many vital provisions and stipulates knowledge of Russian as the primary condition for coming to work in Russia. According to Miller, this law will only breed corruption, because immigrants will try to avoid learning Russia and will buy language examination certificates instead. “In other words, the law will not help improve the immigrants’ language skills or encourage them to learn Russian, but will become an additional tax on them and an additional opportunity for corrupt officials to squeeze money out of immigrants,” Miller said.

It is obvious that life in large cities, including Moscow, is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the local population, because the number of immigrants is growing, and young people who have little or no command of Russian constitute an increasing proportion among them, the professor said. “Instead of considering ways to resolve this problem, the authorities have decided to profit from it, because they are only creating a system in which immigrants will be obliged to obtain one more piece of paper,” Miller said.

He believes that this law must be improved upon. For example, employers should be required to organize after-hours language lessons for immigrant workers, and ensure that they attend them. “Such lessons could be organized at their workplaces after hours, but in fact a very large proportion of immigrants work illegally. Their rights are not protected, and employers hire them exactly because they have no rights. So I don’t expect anything good to come of this law.”

Miller said of the situation in Germany: “They devised a whole system before inviting immigrant workers. Their guest workers attended German schools where they learned the German language. It is very seldom that you meet an immigrant, for example from Turkey, who does not speak German. However, this does not mean that they have become assimilated, but then Germany has never had this goal in mind.”

Apart from the language law, the Russian authorities also plan to adopt a law requiring immigrants to study Russian history and legislation. The expert believes that a history exam would be reasonable only for those immigrants who want to become Russian citizens: “If they want to obtain Russian citizenship, they should probably be obliged to pass language and basic history examinations. This is a requirement in many countries. These examinations are an instrument of checking the immigrants’ readiness to live in a new society. But the history and legislation examinations are hardly necessary for labor immigrants who do not plan to become Russian citizens.”

Alexei Miller also said that these measures are badly substantiated and imbalanced. Even Russian citizens cannot properly protect their rights without legal professionals, and immigrants are unlikely to do this either. Special agencies should be created to protect their rights, Miller said. “The relevant legal system looks completely idiotic. When immigration officers detain illegal immigrants, they have to act in accordance with regulations that stipulate the provision of a bed and hot meals if detainment lasts more than five hours. But the police have no funds for this, and so they release the detainees.”

“Is it easier for society to accept immigrants who know the language and the customs of the host country? The answer is very simple: Yes, of course,” Alexei Miller said.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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