Half a Million Migrants in Moscow Have Lost All Sources of Income

d8a5aa0e-9470-11ea-be48-fa163e074e61Photo by Sergei Lantyukhov for NEWS.ru

Study: Half a Million Migrants in Moscow Have Lost All Sources of Income
Sociologists say government should introduce social security for foreigners, otherwise “social tension” inevitable
Sergei Vilkov
NEWS.ru
May 12, 2020

More than half the migrants in Moscow have lost their jobs, and a significant portion of them have also lost all sources of income, according to a study done by a group of sociologists, led by Evgeni Varshaver, at the Center for Regional and Urban Studies in RANEPA’s Institute for Applied Economic Research. NEWS.ru took a look at their preliminary findings, which have been presented to the Russian government in the form of a briefing paper. The sociologists analyzed the risk of a sharp uptick in crime and social unrest among migrants, as well as making recommendations, one of which was to provide migrants with social security and health insurance. The lead author of the study backed up the findings with his own arguments.

An Invisible Army

While 32% of Moscow residents who are Russian nationals have lost their jobs or been sent on unpaid leave [due to the coronavirus pandemic], 54% of those who come from other countries have lost their jobs in the Russian capital. 32% of migrants have lost all sources of income, while among Muscovites who are Russian nationals this figure is 17%. Only about one in ten guest workers reported that their financial situation had not changed, the report says. (NEWS.ru has a copy of the report.)

If one extrapolates the data from the study to all migrant workers in Moscow, then, given that their number has been estimated by experts at about 1.5 million people, around 500,000 people have completely lost their livelihoods, according to the briefing paper. Reports continue to appear about migrants who have lost their homes and remain in the Russian Federation with no fixed abode [i.e., they are homeless de jure, if not de facto—a critical distinction in Russia, where everyone is required by law to be registered with the authorities at their actual residence]. Migrants often do not receive the free medical care to which they are entitled by law, and other forms of medical care are often too expensive for them.

As the researchers note, migrants are, at the same time, at special risk for the epidemic. The apartments that they rent are, on average, twice as densely inhabited as those of Russian nationals.

Speaking of a possible increase in crime among migrants due to the pandemic, the researchers argue that “although it is possible to assume a slight increase in the number of property crimes by this category of persons, expectations of an explosive increase in crime among migrant workers are not borne out.”

The researchers argue that there was no surge in criminal activity among guest workers during previous crises. This was partly due to oversight by diasporas and similar communities.

When NEWS.ru asked whether diasporas can really control their fellow countrymen, the head of the research group, Evgeni Varshaver, warns against extreme views on this issue. Migrants, he says, like all other people, listen to figures of authority. It is also important to understand that if such respected people have been living in Russia for a long time, they have often been incorporated into local elites (albeit, sometimes, as something exotic), and it is in their interests to prevent the growth of crime among migrants, because in the eyes of their “partners” in Russia, they are responsible for the behavior of their compatriots. Varshaver admits, however, that this influence is often exaggerated.

“However, this does not mean that it does not exist at all. It does exist, and the smaller the locality, the more intense the communication among elites and ordinary migrants, and the more these two groups rely on each other: the first can help with money or put in a word with the migration service; the second, if push comes to shove, can stage a protest rally.  In a large city, due to greater differentiation and multilayered social structure, this link is not so obvious, and the possibilities of atomization are greater. But now let’s get back to what prompted us to discuss diasporas, namely, whether migrants will commit more crimes. I think that they will, along, however, with other deprived groups, and this is understandable in circumstances of acute impoverishment, but this surge will not be as powerful as predicted in some pro-migrant and anti-migrant publications,” says Varshaver, a senior researcher and head of the Migration and Ethnicity Research Group at RANEPA.

In addition, the authors of the study refer to the findings of sociological studies of past years, indicating that among migrant workers in Russia, “the prevailing attitude has been to comply with the laws of the country of residence.”

In 2016, RANEPA sociologists surveyed 2,412 migrant workers in different regions of Russia. 83% of them indicated that it was absolutely necessary to comply with the laws of the host country. However, it would be strange to expect respondents to say the opposite, although even in that study, 3% of migrants chose the option “No, it’s okay if not all the rules are followed.”

A Reason for Welfare

Separately, the researchers considered measures to support migrants. They identified as positive the fact that the presidential decree of April 18 granted foreigners the right to stay in Russia regardless of the length of their residence permits. The requirement to obtain a work permit was then temporarily lifted, meaning that if migrants were out of work and their permit expired, they would not have to buy one. From the same decree, it followed that migrants no longer had to work in the region where they were issued a work permit. The ability to move to another region without bureaucratic barriers has significantly expanded the options of migrants for finding work in crisis conditions, according to the authors of the study. Simultaneously, volunteer aid programs have been implemented, and some migrants are now able to receive charitable support in the form of food and compensation for housing costs.

However, these measures do not solve the problem. According to the RANEPA researchers, it is necessary to ensure that the minimum needs for food and housing of migrants who remain in Russia are met until they have been employed or they can return to their countries of origin. During an epidemic, the link between the well-being of local residents and the circumstances of migrants is more pronounced than in other periods, including after the the risk of property crimes has been taken into account, they argue. In addition, it is necessary to ensure better access to medical care for migrants and to lessen the load on temporary detention centers for foreign nationals subject to deportation.

“This will inevitably be an unpopular decision; moreover, such assistance should be provided along with the assistance that is provided to non-migrants,” explains Varshaver. “A pained reaction on the part of nationalistically minded Russians to the decision to provide this assistance is inevitable, but on the other side of the scale you have total impoverishment accompanied by real hunger, a possible increase in crime, and other negative social consequences, and so it is necessary to make an informed decision, which obviously is to take care of all those who were forced to stay in Russia when the borders closed and hence cannot go anywhere.”

These measures seem to be necessary at the moment. Otherwise, a significant number of migrants will lose their livelihoods, which, regardless of how valid current alarmist expectations are, will lead to significant social tension, the authors of the study claim.

cd21b5aa-9471-11ea-a603-fa163e074e61Photo by Kirill Zykov for Moskva News Agency

When asked how the end of “non-workdays,” as announced by President Vladimir Putin, would affect the circumstances of migrants, Varshaver explains that it is difficult to make forecasts.

“On the one hand, there has been a lot of talk about the situation with migrants, and aid resources have been mobilized, which is why the crisis has been dampened as much as possible. On the other hand, every day of quarantine has a negative impact on the economy as a whole and on migrants in particular. On the third hand, yes, of course, the exit from the quarantine, for example, of the construction industry (I wonder if it has really gone into a full lockdown?) will also enable migrants working in construction to start earning money. On the fourth hand, not all migrants work in construction. There is also, say, the hospitality sector, which the crisis has affected and will continue to affect much more, and this is the second important area of migrant employment, and many who were employed, say, as waiters, are now out of work. On the fifth hand, the summer season is beginning, and this means dacha construction and agricultural work, which means additional jobs. Generally, predicting is not easy, but that the lives of migrants are now no bowl of cherries is a fact, and most likely they are no bowl of cherries to an even greater extent than life for Russian nationals,” says Varshaver.

In late March, NEWS.ru investigated how the crisis brought on by the coronavirus epidemic had severely affected people from Central Asia who work in Russia or even found themselves passing through the country. Transit areas in some of the capital’s airports experienced a collapse due to flight cancellations. Workers and visitors from neighboring countries faced not only being forced to wait for weeks to be sent home without having a source of income. NEWS.ru talked to migrants waiting to leave and found out how the spread of COVID-19 and related quarantine measures had affected these people. We also learned that problems with departing Russia were not the only ones that had impacted migrants, further aggravating the situation of one of the most vulnerable groups in Moscow.

Additional reporting by Marina Yagodkina

Translated by the Russian Reader

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