Illegal Immigration: Can It Be Stopped?

Neighboring countries will not survive without Russia, because they have very high unemployment, and neither can we survive without them, because somebody needs to do all this work. So far, we are in the process of a very painful mutual adjustment. interview with Alexei Malashenko, Member of the Scientific Council of the Carnegie Moscow Center, professor of history at the National Research University - Higher School of Economics, regarding illegal immigration in Russia.

Is there a way to stop illegal immigration?

First, it is impossible and, second, it is useless to try to stop migration as a phenomenon. Illegal immigration is only part of a larger problem. So we will not resolve the problem of illegal immigration until we resolve the issue of migration in general.

According to various data, immigrants (both legal and illegal ones) create from 10% to 12 % of Russia’s gross domestic product. There are about 10 million immigrants in Russia, and only 2 to 2.5 million of them are legal immigrants. No one knows how illegal immigration can be stopped or put on a legal footing. All decisions made in this sphere have limited application, especially because immigration is not unidirectional: there are immigrants from the west (Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova), who do not pose any serious problems, and there are immigrants from the south and the east (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Central Asia), where the situation is much worse.

Can efforts to shut down “rubber apartments,” where dozens of people are registered, and to increase penalties on employers for hiring illegal workers help resolve the issue of illegal immigration in Russia?

These measures would succeed only if we eradicated corruption in law enforcement. They are profiting from this, because everyone knows who lives where. After all, there are neighbors who can inform law enforcement, which they do, because people are annoyed when some 20 “guests” from Central Asia live in an ordinary Moscow apartment. But this does not change anything. The law is ineffective.

The approved federal migration strategy to 2025 aims, in part, at encouraging internal migration and enhancing the economic mobility of the people. Do you think there is a connection between visa-free travel from the CIS countries, which are also used as drug trafficking routes, and obstacles to Russia’s accession to the Schengen Area?

If I lived in Europe, I would definitely create such obstacles. Imagine what you would do in their place. Just look at immigrants in Russia: from 800,000 to 2 million come from Tajikistan and some 1-1.5 million from Uzbekistan. By the way, they send huge sums of money home. Tajik immigrants send up to $3 billion from Russia to their homeland annually. Moreover, some 70%, if not 80%, of people coming from Central Asia are illegal immigrants.

If visa-free travel were approved for Russia, this would have greatly facilitated the movement of “visitors” from Central Asia to Europe, which has enough problems as it is with Turks and Arabs.

A fake migration card is easy to buy in Russia. Is using such cards comparable with using fake documents, which is subject to not only administrative but also criminal punishment?

In my opinion, this is not an administrative violation but a crime. Everything associated with this stimulates crime, one way or another. So I believe that we must act very harshly. It is important to have good legislation that will strictly regulate migration processes.

If this is a crime subject to criminal punishment, why are the sellers and the buyers of fake migration cards not afraid? 

Because it’s done by a mafia based in former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Central Asian mafia is very closely connected with the Moscow mafia, including in the Interior Ministry and other agencies. And these mobsters in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian regions – the Volga region, Siberia and the Urals – make huge profits from illegal immigration. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove this crime.

All applicants for a work permit in Russia will be fingerprinted starting on February 1, 2013. Could this measure help reduce the number of illegal immigrants?

It could, in a normal situation. But Russia is not a typical country in this respect. As in Central Asian states, laws are neglected in Russia. Imagine the mechanism required to trace fingerprints: the entire chain would have to consist of absolutely honest people. Only in this case will this method be effective. But even if one of them is corrupt, the system would collapse. 

In what conditions and when could immigration become manageable in Russia?

In two generations, when the current immigrants’ children, who are 5 to 10 years old now, will grow up and have their own children. Settled immigrants will then influence immigration, both legal and illegal. People will come to Russia because they have relatives here who had come from Central Asia but have become Russian nationals, speak Russian and have become integrated in Russian society. By the way, “old” immigrants could become irritated by the new immigrants, but still it will be easier for them to find common ground.

It is a very long, painful and essentially unmanageable process. But Russia is a big country, and since we have always said that it is a multinational and multiconfessional state, I believe that immigrants could give a fuller and more modern meaning to this diversity.

Could the mostly negative attitude of the native population to immigrants from Central Asia, especially when they don’t speak Russia, lead to conflict, including ethnic clashes?

I believe that some tensions are unavoidable. The only question when such clashes will occur and what specific form they will take. Russia, admittedly, cannot survive without immigrants. Let’s not forget about the aging population. We have recently started talking about pensions, old people and how many pensioners one worker will have to feed in 10 years. Immigration in Russia is not a disease but a natural state, which we refuse to recognize for psychological reasons. We reject immigrants, but they are not crazy about us either. But neighboring countries will not survive without Russia, because they have very high unemployment, and neither can we survive without them, because somebody needs to do all this work. So far, we are in the process of a very painful mutual adjustment. It is difficult to say if it will succeed. It seems to be going well in Europe – in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy.

Moreover, some immigrants will remain in Russia and seek Russian citizenship, meaning that they will gradually integrate into the Russian cultural and political space.

Should we draw on the experience of the United States, Britain and Germany in resolving the issue of legal and illegal immigration and promoting tolerance of immigrants?

Let’s forget about the United States, which, as a nation of immigrants, has no problems comparable to those of Europe. True, it has a specific problem with immigration from Mexico. But the European experience could be more useful to us. On the other hand, there is actually a big difference between our formally similar problems. For example, Britain is being swamped with immigrants from India and Pakistan, who must travel across the ocean to get there. But Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are close neighbors that share a border with Russia.

Do you agree with some political analysts who say that prohibitive measures, like the law making knowledge of Russian mandatory, would only expand the corruption market?

On the one hand, you should know the language of the country where you reside. But immigrants come here not to learn Russian but to find a job and earn a living. While working here and talking with the local population, they will eventually learn Russian, starting with a few words and then expanding their knowledge. The children of the immigrants who settle here will need to know Russian: they will retain their Central Asian – Uzbek or Tajik – culture while at the same time becoming part of the Russian culture. I believe that the future lies in this synergy, and this is as it should be.

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