Russia: A ‘Hidden’ Migration Transition and a Winding Road towards a Mature Immigration Country?

  • Published in:
    Central and Eastern European Migration Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2021, pp. 143-172
    DOI: 10.17467/ceemr.2021.08

    2 March 2021


    16 June 2021

    Views: 7544

The article offers a new perspective on contemporary and past migration processes in the post-Soviet area by testing the usefulness of the concept of a migration cycle for the Russian case. By adopting the longue durée approach, we attempt to assess the advancement of Russia’s migration cycle, arguing at the same time that it constitutes an interesting, yet not an obvious case with which to test the utility of the concept. We postulate that, in tracking Russia’s migration trajectories in pre-1991 times, it is important to account for both the flows between Russia as the-then state entity (i.e. the Tsarist Empire, later the Soviet Union) and foreign countries and the flows between Russia as the core of the empire and its eastern and southern peripheries. Our analyses show that while – taking into account statistical considerations – Russia has undoubtedly already undergone the migration transition, it has not yet reached the stage of a mature immigration country. We also contend that migration transition for Russia occurred internally – within the-then state borders – and revealed itself with its transformation from a Soviet republic into a federative state.

Keywords: Russia, migration cycle, migration transition, immigration country


Empirical observation of long-term trends in international migration across different countries has led to the formulation of the concept of a migration cycle, which assumes the existence of a specific path which a country follows along with its economic and demographic development (Okólski 2012a). The concept provides a useful conceptual framework through which to trace (and potentially predict) trajectories developing with respect to emigration and immigration. It describes the sequence of stages through which a national migration regime passes as a reaction to the ongoing changes to the country’s economy, population and labour market.

To date the concept has been employed in a range of geographical contexts. It has appeared in the migration literature in relation to the processes taking place in Western and Southern Europe (for an overview, see Okólski 2012a). Indirectly, through its key element – migration transition – it has also been adopted for the sake of the description and interpretation of processes occurring in East and South-East Asia (see, e.g., Fields 1994; Findlay, Jones and Davidson 1998; Pang 1994). Whilst it has been applied to the Central European context (see e.g. Górny 2017; Górny and Kaczmarczyk 2020; Incaltarau and Simionov 2017; Okólski 2012a), there have not yet been (m)any attempts to employ it to study migration processes in the Eastern European (or, more broadly, post-Soviet) area. In particular, to the best of our knowledge, there have been no studies attempting to test its relevance for the Russian case. This paper aims to fill this research gap. It also contributes to the current literature in that it offers a new perspective on contemporary and past migration processes in Russia, allowing the formulation of some conclusions with regard to their unique or, on the contrary, universal character.

The main objective of the paper is thus to test the usefulness of the concept of a migration cycle in framing the migration processes in which Russia has been involved and, should it prove useful, to assess the advancement of Russia’s migration cycle. In other words, the main research questions which we attempt to answer are as follows:

  • Can the migration processes that had occurred on the historical territory of Russia and have been taking place in contemporary Russia be framed within the concept of a migration cycle?
  • If yes, at which stage of the cycle should Russia be considered currently?
  • How has the specificity of the Russian historical demographic, economic and political development influenced and modified the course of the cycle?

Russia constitutes an interesting, yet not an obvious case through which to test the utility of the concept of a migration cycle. First, statehood in the Russian case initially took the form of a Tsarist Empire, then became the Soviet Union and finally the Russian Federation, territorially constituting only part of the former empires. The concept of a migration cycle does not easily lend itself to application to such a volatile context. Significant boundary changes make tracking the migration trajectories a challenge and raise an important question as regards the very definition of ‘external’ migration – that is, whether, when looking at historical migration trends, one should analyse migration exchange between the-then or the currently existing states. Second, Russia constitutes a special case as, for many decades, international migration to and from its territory was heavily restricted. Third, observation of long-term migration trends in the Russian case is hindered by the frequent amendments to the system of statistical data collection.

To address the above research questions, we adopt a longue durée approach. In tracking Russia’s external migration trajectories in the pre-1991 period, one may follow two alternative approaches. One may focus solely on international migration (i.e., migration in- and outflows external to the Russian Empire – later the USSR) or concentrate on Russia in its current borders and account for both international and internal (relative to the Russian Empire/USSR) migration flows. The latter would also include centrifugal flows from Central Russia to the east in pre-Soviet times and inter-republican intra-USSR flows in the Soviet period atop of international migration flows in a classic sense. Importantly, the earlier centrifugal movements, formally considered as internal flows within a single country, explain the later, for example, the 1990s’ centripetal movements from the former ‘colonies’ to the centre of the former empire (Iontsev and Ivakhniouk 2002; see also Brunarska 2013). The adoption of the first approach, without accounting for the fact that the ‘new’, post-1991 international flows have not appeared out of nowhere but were a continuation of the former pre-1991 internal flows,1 would not allow an observation of an evolutionary process. This would lead to a distorted picture, with a rapid increase in international flows after 1991 being merely a statistical artefact (Okólski 2012b). For that reason, we argue that one should not disregard the external non-international flows before 1991. Therefore, we adopt the second approach and attempt to track the migration trajectories of Russia, defined in terms of its current borders (hence, whenever ‘Russia’ is mentioned, we mean Russia in its current borders, unless stated otherwise). By seeking to reconstruct Russia’s migration patterns over recent decades, we intend to determine how the observed trajectories diverge from the theory-based course of the process. Atop of analysing the available migration statistics, we take a broader look at the evolution of the country’s migration regime – and also consider its migration and integration policies, as well as public opinion towards immigration, as important markers of advancement of its migration cycle.

The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. The next section briefly describes the main assumptions of the concept of a migration cycle. We then seek to determine Russia’s degree of advancement on its migration cycle based on available statistical data. First, we present the historical background of pre-1991 migrations. This is followed by a section presenting the post-1991 migration trends and aiming to assess the maturity of the Russian migration cycle based on the state of its migration policy and public opinion on immigration. The last section concludes.

The concept of a migration cycle

Having observed that ‘younger’ immigration countries in Europe (such as Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal) followed similar trajectories in terms of their emigration-immigration patterns to those which the ‘old’ immigration countries (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands and the UK) had done 2–3 decades earlier, a collective of researchers collaborating within the IDEA project developed the conceptual approach based on the notion of a migration cycle (Okólski 2012a). Within this approach, a migration cycle is seen as a ‘systematisation of stages in the change in country migration status, where the fundamental and constitutive process of the cycle comes to be the migration transition’ (Okólski 2012b: 13) ‘from immature to mature immigration country’ (Okólski 2012c: 23).

As noted by Okólski (2012b), the idea of looking at long-term migration trends through the lens of the migration cycle was by no means new. The twentieth-century scientific literature offered several alternative notions to capture the idea of a sequence of changing mobility patterns – apart from a migration cycle (see, e.g., Dassetto 1990; Fielding 1993; Thomas 1954), for instance, a migration curve (Akerman 1976) or an emigration life cycle (Hatton and Williamson 1994, 2009). Akin to these approaches is that offered by so-called transition theories, looking for the long-term trends in development and migration patterns. They were pioneered by Zelinsky’s (1971) seminal work, drawing a link between demographic transition and mobility transition as society undergoes the process of modernisation. Transitional models, assuming that, along with development, emigration follows an inverted U-shaped pattern, were later developed in the Western context, among others by Chesnais (1986), de Haas (2010) and Skeldon (2012). They have also been applied in the context of the newly industrialising economies of Asia – i.e. Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan – which have undergone a rapid transition from labour exporters to labour importers as a result of the export-led economic growth based on labour-intensive production (see Fields 1994; Findlay et al. 1998; Pang 1994).

The concept of a migration cycle adopted for this paper follows the approach of Fassman and his collaborators (Fassman 2009; Fassmann and Reeger 2008, 2012; Fassmann, Musil and Gruber 2014) and rests on the idea that a country adapts to new circumstances by developing certain mechanisms to accommodate the changing demographic and economic conditions (Fassmann and Reeger 2012). It may thus be understood as a learning process, in which both the society and the country’s legal system adapt (with a certain time lag)2 to new or evolving migration situation (Fassmann et al. 2014). The concept assumes a general shift from an emigration to an immigration country, during which the country’s migration patterns and society are supposed to undergo specific phases (Fassmann and Reeger 2008). While the authors admit that the concept does not presuppose that each country passes through exactly the same cycle, with the same number of phases and a predefined final closure, they do propose a general model which allows the assessment of a country’s position on the migration cycle’s ‘recentness/maturity scale’ (2008: 5). The model may thus be treated as a standard against which it is possible to identify the distinctive characteristics of migration in different countries. It includes the four distinct phases of a migration cycle: 1) the preliminary stage, at the beginning of which emigration dominates over immigration but in the course of which the gap between them is getting systematically narrower; 2) the take-off stage, in which immigration begins to dominate over emigration (due to the growing economy and/or shrinking workforce); 3) the stagnation stage, which involves migration control mechanisms; 4) the mature stage, in which public opinion comes to terms with immigration as a necessary supplement to the local labour force (Fassmann and Reeger 2008). While, in newer works, Fassmann and his colleagues (2009, 2012, 2014) distinguish three consecutive stages (labelled as the starting/initial/pre-transition/preliminary stage, the intermediate or transition stage and the adaptation or post-transformation stage), their sequence and characteristics are largely the same. The general idea is that the initial stage means stability in the form of a negative or zero migration balance. Following a transition stage/s, which may be seen as (a) disturbance(s), the system regains stability, this time denoted by a positive migration balance at the adaptation/mature stage. As regards the public sphere, the first stage is defined by the existence of rules regulating emigration, while the question of immigration is absent from both the legislative realm and the public discourse. The transition stage, in turn, sees often sharp disputes on immigration and involves first regulations – targeted mostly at the labour market. Finally, the mature stage brings public consensus on immigration and integration policies. This resembles Dassetto’s (1990 as cited by Arango 2012) conceptualisation of a migration cycle, in which each stage is characterised by the dominant immigrant actors. The first is supposed to be dominated by the inflow of ‘socially marginalised foreign workers’, the second by the arrival of family members of those ‘pioneer’ migrants and the third by the integration processes of long-term residents.

All in all, there are certain features of the system (the migration regime) that may be treated as manifestations of the mature phase of a migration cycle. These include the stability of migration flows, with a positive migration balance and a migration policy and public opinion that accept immigration. According to Fassman and Reeger (2012), the notion of an immigration country may be operationalised in at least two different ways – based on self-perception by the political elites and the general public viewing immigration as an intrinsic part of the nation-building process, and based on statistical considerations (where it is defined by a substantial and systematic immigration surplus). At the mature stage of a migration cycle, these two approaches are actually likely to go together, when the long-term immigration reality becomes an inherent and accepted feature of the social system.

While a clear-cut distinction between emigration and immigration countries, understood in terms of countries that are either the sole source of emigration or only the centres of attraction for immigration, has been criticised (see e.g. Pratsinakis, Hatziprokopiou and King 2017), the concept of a migration cycle does not rest on such a distinction. It allows the coexistence of various types of flows and focuses on the net prevalence of one over the other over the majority of years in a given period (Fassmann and Reeger 2012). In other words, it does not presuppose that net immigration countries that have attained the mature stage of a migration cycle cannot record high levels of emigration at the same time. This is especially true since, as argued by de Haas (2010), highly developed societies are generally more mobile and may simultaneously note high volumes of immigration and emigration (though the former is supposed to prevail at the more advanced stages of the cycle). Arango (2012: 46) argues that a decisive criterion should be the ‘societal impact of receiving or hosting significant numbers of immigrants’ rather than net migration in a given year.

Historical, pre-1991 migration trends

As mentioned in the introduction, while tracking the early stages of Russia’s migration cycle in the pre-1991 era, we will discuss two types of external flows – the truly international ones between Russia as a then state entity (i.e. the Tsarist Empire, later the Soviet Union) and foreign countries and external but not international flows between Russia as the core of the Russian Empire or later as the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the state’s eastern and southern peripheries. In the short overview below, we focus on long-lasting migration trends, trying to capture the processes driven by long-term demographic or economic factors rather than short-term political ‘disturbances’. Hence, we devote relatively little attention to the flows caused directly by extraordinary events, such as wars, especially as they are difficult to measure in a reliable way.

Migrations in the Eurasian space: from centrifugal to centripetal flows

Russian territorial expansion to the east and south started in the second quarter of the sixteenth century (Lyubavskiy 1996). It was accompanied by outward migration although the outflows were relatively moderate until the second half of the nineteenth century. Up to this point, the Russian population in Central Asia was relatively small (see Table A1 in the Appendix), since most of these territories became part of the empire only in the second half of the nineteenth century. Northern parts of present-day Kazakhstan constituted an exception, as peasants from European Russia had been settling there from the end of eighteenth century (cf. Table A1). Russian (and other European peoples) were also more numerous in the South Caucasus (Table A2 in the Appendix), most of which was annexed by the empire in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Most Russians lived in cities and formed a substantial part of the local elite (local administration, industrial and railway workers, doctors and teachers). Among the main triggers of the upsurge in the outflows from the Russian core to the eastern and southern periphery at the end of nineteenth century were, first, the liberation of the serfs in 1861 along with the launch of the peasant resettlement programme in 1880s, the culmination of which was Stolypin’s agrarian reform (Moiseenko 2015). The second trigger was the opening of the Siberian railroad in 1897 (Obolenskiy-Osinskiy 1928) and the third was the state’s desire to strengthen its borders and to exploit its natural resources such as fur, wood, gold, iron and cotton (Abashin, Arapov and Bekmakhanova 2008; Dameshek and Remnev 2007; Rybakovskiy 1990). While migration outflow from European Russia to the remote, sparsely populated peripheries of the empire may be perceived in terms of land conquest and the strengthening of the state’s power over the colonised territories, out-migration was also crucial in light of the over-population of rural areas in European Russia. This resulted from a high natural increase among peasants, which could not be offset by the progressive industrialisation and urbanisation (Remnev and Suvorova 2010). Resettlement in Asian Russia, although sizeable (estimated at over 7 million people between 1801 and 1914, with 30 per cent of the inflow falling on the period after the liberation of the serfs and before the opening of the Siberian railway and 60 per cent after that date Obolensky-Ossinsky 1928), neither succeeded in solving the agrarian crisis in European Russia nor in stopping out-migration abroad (Moiseenko 2013, 2015; see next section).

After the break caused by the First World War and the Civil War, the resettlement of peasants from the lowland areas of European Russia, Ukraine and Belarus behind the Urals regained its momentum.3 The state’s takeover of control over the initially relatively spontaneous flows contributed to their intensification under Soviet rule. Overall, between the population censuses of 1926 and 1939, the population of Siberia and the Far East increased from 12.3 million to almost 16.7 million – i.e. by 35 per cent, compared to a 14 per cent increase in the case of European RSFSR (including the Urals) and 17 per cent for the entire USSR (calculations based on Goskomstat of Russia 1998).

The 1920s and 1930s saw a large migration outflow from the European area of the USSR to Central Asia. This was a part of the Soviet government’s plan of transforming the Central Asian populations (from ‘feudalism to socialism’), which involved not only the question of economic development but also actions pertaining to the issues of literacy, the status of women and local government (Karakhanov 1983). To accomplish the plan, qualified specialists (engineers, workers, teachers and doctors) were sent from the centre of the country to support the newly established industrial enterprises and local administration. As a result, the number of non-indigenous people, primarily ethnic Russians and other Slavs, increased in the Central Asian and South Caucasian republics (Tables A1 and A2 in the Appendix).4

Two factors: the industrialisation of Russia – which stimulated demand for additional labour – and the sending of prisoners from all over the empire to Russia’s eastern and northern regions (including victims of dekulakisation) resulted in eastward and southward migration flows from central Russia being accompanied by positive net migration with other republics in the period preceding the Second World War (Andreev, Darskiy and Khar’kova 1998). Eastward and northward flows intensified during the war, due to the evacuation of enterprises from the west of Russia and efforts to boost national industry (Rybakovskiy 2008). The flows directed at Siberia and Central Asia during the war were also reinforced by the deportations of entire ethnic groups that took place between 1941 and 1944 (see Kreindler 1986).

Most of the post-Second World War intra-USSR inter-republican flows were directed outside the RSFSR. Out-migration to the USSR peripheries was encouraged by communist party appeals and often institutionalised – for example, taking the form of university graduate assignments. The post-war period saw a continuation of the development programme directed at Central Asia. Qualified workers from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus who resettled in the Central Asian republics in accordance with policies from the 1950s and 1960s were attracted by career prospects, the warm climate, low food prices and the perspective of obtaining housing. Many went to Kazakhstan under the Virgin Lands campaign. Newcomers also headed for the newly developing industry-based urban areas in localities where the local rural population was not yet ready to move to cities (Zayonchkovskaya 1999).

According to population censuses and official migration statistics, in the second half of the 1950s and until the end of the 1960s, Russia noted a negative migration balance not only with Central Asian but also with Ukrainian, Moldovan and Baltic republics (Khorev and Moiseenko 1974). Out-migration from Russia was reinforced by the low standard of living in the Russian countryside, from which most migrants originated (Zayonchkovskaya 1993).

The mid-1970s saw a reversal of the earlier centrifugal trends, manifesting itself with a growing share of the south-to-north migration in Russia’s overall migration exchange with the other USSR republics. Given the dominance of inter-republican intra-USSR flows in the overall external migration exchange of the RSFSR, this is also true for Russia’s total migration balance (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Natural increase and net migration in Russia (the RSFSR and later the Russian Federation) from 1950 to 2019 (annual data, thousands)

Note: The scale of permanent net migration for the RSFSR (i.e. until 1989) was estimated with the use of a demographic balance equation based on data on the total population derived from population censuses and the total number of births and deaths registered in the intercensal period. For the period between the 1989 and 2010 censuses, we used the annual registration-based net migration data adjusted by Rosstat for population census data (the difference between net migration figures based on the total population change and natural change between the censuses and net migration data obtained from registration statistics which gets distributed by the years of the inter-census period). The post-2010 figures are based on the current registration data. Starting from 2011, the statistics on long-term migration also include, apart from registration and deregistration by place of permanent residence, registration by place of stay for a period of at least nine months. Importantly, a person is considered deregistered automatically after expiration of the permitted period of stay, regardless of whether they have left the country or not.

Source: based on Goskomstat of Russia (1998); Rosstat (2021a, b).

This retreat from the periphery tends to be explained by the redirection of capital investments from Central Asia to the RSFSR (or from southern to northern USSR when considered in broader terms, Rowland 1988). The gradual reversal of the trend had in fact already started at the end of 1960s with an outflow of the Russian population from the South Caucasus republics, Georgia and Azerbaijan (Table A2 in the Appendix). It tends to be explained by the ongoing replacement of Russian qualified staff with the local, increasingly more highly educated workforce and by the growing mobility of the local rural population (Zayonchkovskaya 1999). The 1970s saw the beginning of a positive migration balance with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; the remaining Central Asian republics, Ukraine and Moldova then followed. In the 1980s, overall, Russia noted a negative migration balance only with the Baltic republics. On the whole, Russia gained 1.6 million people in the 1980s in exchange with the other republics, mostly with Kazakhstan and Ukraine (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Migration balance of Russia (the RSFSR) with the remaining Soviet republics from 1980 to 1989 (thousands)

Note: Current registration data.

Source: Goskomstat of Russia (unpublished data).

The key driving force for these south-to-north flows was the demographic factor – a high natural increase in Central Asia and the South Caucasus leading to surplus labour and the over-population of rural areas, which initially caused the out-migration of the Russian-speaking population (mostly ethnic Russians and other Slavs). However, the growing tensions in the labour markets of the republics coupled with rapid population growth brought the exodus of the indigenous peoples from Central Asia and the South Caucasus to Russia, which is reflected in their growing number according to the subsequent population censuses (Table A3 in the Appendix). These were mainly people with vocational and higher education, in particular those who received it in Russia. Migration inflow from Central Asia and the South Caucasus to Russia at the end of the Soviet Union and in the first post-Soviet years has additionally been motivated by the ethnic and civil conflicts and wars (in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan and Moldova). These initially ethnically and politically motivated flows later transformed into the labour migration of members of these states’ titular nations to Russia.

Migration exchange with the rest of the world: stifled potential

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the international migration exchange of Russia (the Tsarist Empire) was of low volume (Figure 3). However, it increased along with the expansion of international contacts and the development of means of transport and communication. Due to the shortage of the human resources needed for the development of its vast territories, the Russian authorities viewed foreigners as skilled workers and a source of know-how. This positive attitude towards immigration was accompanied by a negative stance towards the emigration of Russian citizens, apart from those representing certain ethnic and religious groups (see later in the paper). Overall, the state’s migration policy was aimed at keeping the population in the country (Lohr 2012; see also Moiseenko 2019 on the evolution of citizenship policies in the Russian state).

Figure 3. The balance of movement of citizens and foreigners in the Russian Empire from 1828 to 1914 (number of persons)

Note: Numbers based on statistics on border crossing.

Source: Based on Willcox (1929).

Attracting foreigners to Russia has had a long history. Although the country saw relatively few of them in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, foreigners made a great contribution to the development of the army, trade, new technologies and architecture. The large-scale inflow of foreigners started with Peter the Great’s policy to attract foreign specialists, scientists and businessmen with the country’s comprehensive modernisation in view. Territorial gains required further contingents of people to develop uninhabited territories, especially those in the South on the Black Sea which were annexed by the Russian state as a result of the war with Turkey. Catherine the Great invited about 100,000 colonists, of whom almost 40,000 (from various German lands) settled in the Lower Volga region and the rest (from Austria and the Ottoman Empire) in the Novorossiysk province. The second significant wave of agrarian immigration took place in the first half of the nineteenth century, with more than 70,000 German colonists and 130,000 Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and others from the Ottoman Empire and Austria arriving in the south of Russia (Kabuzan 1996).

The post-reform era, which began with the abolition of serfdom in 1861, brought about an increase in both internal and external migration in the Russian Empire. On the one hand, the problem of land scarcity and poverty became more acute in the context of accelerating demographic growth. On the other hand, development of capitalism in Russia and abroad led to an increased demand for labour both in cities and in underdeveloped territories. Thus, a new stage of mobility transition was opening up in Russia, which manifested itself in the intensification and expansion of the geography of internal and external movements.

In the post-reform era, the influx of foreigners to the Russian Empire increased markedly (Figure 3). According to estimates based on statistics on border crossings,5 from 1828 to 1915, the net inflow of foreigners to the Russian Empire amounted to almost 4.2 million, 94 per cent of which occurred after 1861. During this period, the Russian government granted privileges to foreigners in the hope of attracting them to participate in the processes of modernisation and industrialisation. Thus, the country’s immigration policy aimed to serve its economic development. At the turn of the nineteen and twentieth centuries, foreigners accounted for a third of all technical specialists working in the Russian industry and 10 per cent of administrative staff (Lohr 2012). Border-crossing statistics show that most of the immigrants came from Germany, Persia and Austria-Hungary (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Net migration of foreigners in the Russian Empire between 1861 and 1915 by origin (thousands)

Note: Numbers based on statistics on border crossings.

Source: Based on Kabuzan (1996: 307).

As regards the individual emigration of Russian citizens, this was a rare phenomenon until the mid-nineteenth century. Similarly as in the case of internal eastward flows, the emancipation reform of 1861 constituted a turning point and became a key migration trigger for the first wave of mass emigration from Russia. This emigration wave was mainly economic in nature and, as discussed above, was accompanied by sizable outflows from European Russia eastwards. It involved peasants emigrating abroad, mainly from Western Russia (including the present-day territories of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus), either permanently (Obolenskiy-Osinskiy 1928) or undertaking temporary labour migration, e.g. in Germany or Denmark (Tudoryanu 1986). Despite its economic motivation, this wave to a large extent involved emigration flows based on an ethnic principle (e.g. the emigration of Jews as a response to the introduction of a series of discriminatory laws). In the early 1860s, a significant outflow from the Russian Empire was caused by the emigration of mountaineers from the Caucasus and Crimean Tatars to Turkey (Kabuzan 1996), as well as by the outflow triggered by the Polish uprising of 1863. In the 1870s, the abolition of tax incentives and the introduction of military service caused an outflow of German Mennonite colonists to North and South America (Schmidt 1959). Individual migration gained momentum in the 1880s when the restrictions on the emigration of the non-Orthodox population were relaxed. If we rely on border-crossing statistics, this first sizable emigration wave of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was estimated at almost 4.5 million for 1860–1915 (in contrast to 33,000 for 1828–1859). At the same time, between 1860 and 1915, the net inflow of foreigners to the Russian Empire (over 3.9 million) compensated for almost 90 per cent of the outflow of Russians from the empire, giving a negative international migration balance of about half a million people. Should the eastward outflows from the territory of European Russia also be considered, the total negative external migration balance would amount to around 6 million people in the period from the Great Reform to the beginning of the First World War (calculations based on Obolenskiy-Osinskiy 1928).

Pre-revolutionary Russian legislation prohibited the acquisition of foreign citizenship by Russian citizens. Those who violated this prohibition were deprived of property and considered exiles. The period of stay abroad was limited to five years. The authorities pursued a selective emigration policy, seeking to retain the Orthodox population and allowing the departure of members of politically ‘problematic’ groups (Jews, Mennonite Germans, Russian Old Believers, Poles, etc.). Under these restrictions, many Russian citizens travelled abroad illegally. Most of the emigrants went to the West, primarily to the United States. As summarised by Obolensky-Ossinsky (1928), until the twentieth century, outward migration from the core of the Russian Empire to the East exceeded the net outflow of Russians from the empire to the West, while the early twentieth century saw the equalisation of the two out-migration flows. Given the selective emigration policy, most of emigrants were not ethnic Russians – the share of ethnic Russians (including Great Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) among newcomers to the United States and Canada between 1899 and 1913 (2.54 million in total) amounted only to 10 per cent, while Jews constituted 40 per cent, Poles 27 per cent, Lithuanians 9 per cent, Finns 8 per cent and Germans 5 per cent (Obolenskiy-Osinskiy 1928). The situation changed after the 1905 revolution. The liberalisation of the departure rules was accompanied by an increase in the share of ethnic Russians in the emigration flow.

The second wave of emigration, which is variously estimated at 1.5–3 million people (Denisenko 2013; Polyan 2005), followed the October Revolution of 1917, the First World War and the Russian Civil War of 1918–1921 and, unlike the previous wave, was mainly of a political nature. This is commonly referred to as the ‘White emigration’, as it involved those who opposed the Bolsheviks – mostly the supporters of the monarchy, aristocrats and the intelligentsia. In contrast to the first wave, which included mainly individuals of non-Russian ethnicity, the second one was mostly composed of ethnic Russians (Iontsev 2014). Although noticeably weaker than in the pre-war years, economic emigration continued until the late 1920s, when Stalin closed the Soviet borders (Moiseenko 2017). In terms of immigration, many political and labour migrants returned to Russia during the revolution (more than 100,000 people from the United States alone – Davis 1922). Several thousand enthusiasts of the left-wing ideology from Europe and the United States organised communes in Siberia and the Far East and worked on construction sites of socialism (Platunov 1976). Until the mid-1930s, the state still found the attraction of foreigners useful for the modernisation of the country. According to official data, in mid-1932, there were over 9,000 foreign specialists and almost 11,000 foreign workers, as well as their 18,000 family members, in the USSR (Kas’yanenko 1972).

The third wave of mass emigration followed the Second World War and consisted mainly of individuals who were forced to move outside of the USSR. According to the Soviet archives, the number of people involved was approximately 620,000 (Zemskov 1991). Opportunities for legal emigration from the Soviet Union were limited – an exit visa was required and an attempt to acquire one was viewed as a treasure.

Despite strict restrictions placed on emigration across the entire period of the Cold War, the total migration outflow from the USSR between 1950 and 1986 was estimated at almost 450,000 (Heitman 1987). According to German data, almost 100,000 people arrived in Germany from the USSR in this period (BVA 2020). According to American statistics, 78,000 people arrived in the United States from the USSR between 1951 and 1986 (INS 1988).6 Many famous artists, athletes and scientists fled to the West during their visits abroad for sporting competitions, scientific conferences or tourist trips, despite strict political control. Overall, as in the late nineteenth century, emigration was mainly of an ethnic nature. In the 1970s, under strong pressure from Western countries (Israel, West Germany and France), the Soviet state opened the emigration window for Jews, Germans and Armenians as part of family reunification and repatriation (Heitman 1988). Jewish emigration from the USSR amounted to about 290,000 between 1970 and 1988 (Tolts 2020). The majority of them (over 164,000) went to Israel, the rest mainly to the US. As regards immigration to Russia from abroad in this period, it was not numerous and mainly included communists who fled persecution in their countries of origin (e.g. Greece, Chile, Turkey) and the temporary stays of students and workers.

Gorbachev’s restructuring of the foreign and domestic policy in the 1987–1991 period involved changing the attitude of the state towards the international contacts of Soviet citizens, including trips abroad. Migration outflows increased considerably, reaching around 1.3 million emigrants from the USSR from 1987 to 1991, including 343,000 from the RSFSR (Table A4 in the Appendix). Emigration still had a strong ethnic component, with most of the emigrants going to Germany and Israel (Goskomstat SSSR 1990).

International migration in post-Soviet Russia

The year 1991 brought the final dismantling of the Iron Curtain, which unleashed the migration potential accumulated during Soviet times. The post-Soviet period may be divided into three phases, which differed with regard to the three dimensions of the ongoing migration processes: (1) the main migration triggers; (2) the form of migration (permanent or temporary) and (3) migration policy and the accompanying institutions.

The first phase, lasting from 1992 to 2002, noted a high migration increase, amounting to over 5 million people (our calculations based on adjusted Rosstat data). Importantly, this happened together with a relatively high emigration from the Russian Federation – almost 1 million emigrants went to ‘far-abroad’ countries (non-former-USSR countries), according to official data and 1.5 million according to estimates based on foreign sources. Of these, 95 per cent went to three countries: Germany, Israel and the United States. Thus, the population of Russia had increased by more than 6 million people at the expense of the former Soviet republics. Migration growth was particularly strong in 1994, reaching almost 1 million people (cf. Figure 1). Almost half of the increase in the decade 1992–2002 was provided by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Table 1). The net inflow, nevertheless, was dominated by ethnic Russians and other Russian-speaking groups (Table A5 in the Appendix).

Migration flows in the early post-Soviet period (their geography, volume and composition) were largely determined by political events. The outflow of the Russian-speaking population from the post-Soviet republics was reinforced by a growing nationalism, which accompanied the construction of the new independent states. This led to pressure exerted on Russian-speakers in the form of restrictions on civil and political rights, on the use of the Russian language and on their being moved away of the sphere of managerial and intellectual work, as well as entrepreneurship (Zayonchkovskaya 2005). The outflow was also accelerated by a series of armed conflicts in the 1990s: in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and Tajikistan. The migration flows to Russia after the collapse of the USSR were also reinforced by the return of several hundred thousand Soviet military personnel (including family members).

Table 1. Net migration of Russia with the former Soviet republics (thousands)

Note: Numbers based on current registration data. Due to the 2010 changes to the registration system, they should not be compared longitudinally.

Source: Based on EMISS (2021).

In the 1990s, with the permeability of borders and the continued operation of USSR passports, it was difficult to draw a clear line between temporary labour migration and migration for permanent residence, as well as between the regular and the irregular employment of immigrants from the former Soviet republics. Since Russia was the first to apply the ‘shock therapy’ in its transition to a market economy in 1992, at some point it ceased to be attractive for economic migrants. This contributed to a net outflow of the indigenous peoples of Central Asia from Russia in the early 1990s (Table A5 in the Appendix). With the deepening crisis in the other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries and with Russia moving forward on the reform path (and later with the rising oil prices), its economic attractiveness as a potential migration destination began to grow. Rapid development of the service sector – which was heavily underdeveloped under the Soviet Union – and of private business and the emergence of foreign capital accompanied by the shortage in the local workforce, all increased the demand for foreign labour. As a result, labour migration to Russia started to flourish in the late 1990s. At the beginning of the 2000s, the number of foreign workers from CIS countries in Russia was estimated at 3 million people (IOM 2002; Krasinets, Kubishin and Tyuryukanova 2000), of which almost 90 per cent were not covered by the official statistics.

The mass population movements in the post-Soviet space in the first decade after the USSR collapse were facilitated by the agreement on visa-free movement on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was concluded in 1992 and in force until 2000 (though visa-free travel continued under bilateral and multilateral treaties). The-then legislation in the field of migration in Russia concerned refugees and internally displaced persons. The laws regulating the situation of foreign workers in the country and access to Russian citizenship did not correspond to the changes in the migration situation (e.g. the procedures for obtaining citizenship by those who were not USSR citizens were not clearly defined). In the context of a very severe economic and social crisis, public attitudes towards international migrants remained rather negative. Anti-immigrant sentiments were even aimed at Russian-speaking refugees.

The second phase in the post-Soviet migration processes started with the adoption of new laws that replaced the old Soviet legislation and underpinned the Russian migration regime.7 In comparison to the previous phase, Russia’s net migration decreased – it amounted to 3.3 million people between 2003 and 2013 (Rosstat 2019). The decline in net migration from CIS countries was influenced by a depletion in the Russian-speaking population who were willing to move to Russia who were then resident in Central Asia and the South Caucasus (Tables A1–A2 in the Appendix). At the same time, this phase saw an increase in the share of titular nations of these countries among permanent migrants. The outflow to ‘far-abroad’ countries decreased due to the reduction of the Jewish and German populations and the abolition of privileges that were previously granted to immigrants from the (former) Soviet Union in the West (refugee status, programmes for scientists, etc.).

The most striking feature of this phase was the rapid increase in the number of foreign workers in Russia, leading to its transformation into one of the largest centres of labour migration (see Table A6 and Figure A1 in the Appendix for official figures). This was due to a strong economic growth (GDP growth exceeding 8 per cent in 2006 and 2007 according to the World Bank 2021) which, along with the shift of native workers from industry and agriculture to services and the concomitant shortage of a workforce in the former sectors, caused an increase in demand for foreign labour. According to expert estimates, the number of foreign workers in 2008 might have amounted to 5–6 million people (Zayonchkovskaya and Tyuryukanova 2010) and, in 2014, to over 8 million (Chudinovskikh and Denisenko 2020). Unlike in the 1990s, their inflow was dominated by residents of the Central Asian states. The high demand for labour brought a liberalisation of the Russian legislation concerning labour migration, which additionally contributed to the growth in the number of foreign workers, especially those who were officially registered. This included the 2006 simplification of access to work permits for citizens of CIS countries (hindered later in 2007 by the introduction of quotas for work permits, however) and the 2010 opening of additional migration channels (that were not subject to quotas) for certain categories of foreign worker (e.g. highly qualified specialists and those employed in households).

The high demand for foreign labour in the 2000s was triggered not only by economic factors, especially since the country experienced a severe economic crisis in 2008–2009. It was also fuelled by the demographic factor. Since 2007, the working-age population has been on a steady decline in Russia. It used to decrease by almost 1 million people annually between 2013 and 2018 (own calculations based on EMISS 2021). Its shrinkage was accompanied by a growing level of education of the local workforce, which led to labour shortages in the secondary labour market (among low-skilled and manual workers). This shortfall was compensated mainly by Central Asian workers, for whom remittances sent from Russia became the main means of alleviating household poverty and high unemployment back home.

Despite the potential benefits of the migration inflow in mitigating the consequences of the deepening demographic crisis and filling labour-market shortages, immigration consistently sparked concerns among the receiving population. A look at recent public-opinion data suggests that the twenty-first century has noted further a deterioration of attitudes towards immigration.8 Figure 5 presents the dynamics of pro-immigration attitudes in Russia according to subsequent Levada polls. It shows that the share of respondents who, while responding to the question on a desired immigration policy, answered that the government should not set any administrative barriers and should attempt to use immigration for the benefit of Russia, noted a considerable decrease between 2002 and 2020.

Figure 5. Pro-immigration attitudes in Russia, 2002–2020 (desirable policy towards immigrants – per cent answers: ‘not to set any administrative barriers and use immigration for the benefit of Russia’)

Note: Labels on the horizontal axis mark the beginning of a given year; * The set of available answers (‘attempt to limit the inflow’; ‘not to set any administrative barriers and attempt to use immigration for the benefit of Russia’; ‘hard to say’) was extended with the answer ‘I do not care’.

Source: subsequent editions (2011–2017) of Obshchestvennoe mnenie. Moscow: Yuri Levada Analytical Center; Monitoring ksenofobskikh nastroeniy, iyul’ 2018 goda (2018); Levada-Center (2020).

The European Social Survey (ESS) data also suggest a drop in pro-immigration attitudes in twenty-first-century Russia. It seems, nevertheless, to have concerned immigrants of the same race/ethnic group as the majority of Russia’s population, while attitudes towards the inflow of immigrants of different race/ethnic groups and from poorer countries outside Europe tended to remain at the similar level in 2006–2018 (see Figure 6).

Attitudes towards immigration in Russia over recent decades have been strongly politically driven, with the authorities, Russian nationalists and other social forces strategically fostering anti-immigrant sentiment for their own political gains (Laruelle 2010; Markowitz and Peshkova 2016; Shlapentokh 2007). Consequently, public opinion on immigration tended to become more polarised each time the question of immigration moved higher up on the political agenda (Monitoring ksenofobskikh nastroeniy, iyul’ 2018 goda 2018). Overall, the state of public opinion toward immigration in contemporary Russia seems to be indicative of the transition stage of the migration cycle, with no signs, however, of heading towards a greater acceptance of immigration (and thus towards the mature stage of the cycle). Importantly, however, employers were in favour of liberalising the rules for admitting migrant workers. They were supported by the country’s leadership, which approved the relatively liberal concept of the state migration policy in 2012. In particular, this policy allowed for the opening of immigration programmes like the Canadian one and the provision of additional labour-migration channels for non-CIS citizens. At this stage, the status of the Migration Service was raised: it became an independent agency, accountable to the RF president.

Figure 6. Pro-immigration attitudes in Russia, 2006–2018 (per cent answers: ‘allow many to come and live in Russia’)

Source: European Social Survey, ESS, rounds 3–9 (2020).

The third phase began in the mid-2010s. It coincided with the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine and the new economic crisis that followed and was accompanied by new amendments to the migration legislation, which facilitated access to the Russian labour market by citizens of CIS countries. Despite the crisis, no significant reduction in the demand for foreign workers was recorded (which may partly be due to an increased demand for foreign labour at the construction sites of facilities for the World Cup 2018) – according to official statistics, the number of documented temporary labour migrants in Russia increased from 4 to 5.5 million between 2014 and 2019 (MDM 2021).9 Despite the inflow of refugees from Ukraine, permanent net migration has slightly decreased (it amounted to 235,000 annually on average in the period 2014–2019 compared to 294,000 in 2003–2013). Emigration to non-CIS countries, in turn, has not changed fundamentally. Importantly, the new 2018 concept of the state migration policy, contrary to the previous 2012 one, did not envisage attracting migrants from the ‘far-abroad’ countries.

The growing presence of culturally more distant immigrants and the declining incomes and growth of poverty contributed to a further proliferation of anti-immigrant sentiments. According to Levada surveys, in 2019 and 2020, more than 70 per cent of the population supported the restrictive policy towards labour migration, compared to 58 per cent in 2017 (Levada-Center 2020). As regards migration policy, since 2015, citizens of CIS countries do not need to apply for a work permit – they must buy a ‘patent’ instead. Moreover, after the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union, a single labour market is being formed on the territory of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: citizens of the latter four countries do not need to hold any additional documents to undertake work in Russia. At the same time, in the newly adopted concept of state migration policy, the programmes of permanent migration are limited to the repatriation of compatriots. The pro-immigration policy aimed at attracting labour migrants is limited to CIS countries and the permissible length of stay for labour migrants remains short (one year with the possibility of extension for another year). There are no integration programmes targeted at labour migrants, despite the fact that many newcomers of younger generations from Central Asia are poorly educated and often have a poor command of the Russian language. The compulsory test in the Russian language, the history of Russia and the Russian legislation introduced in 2015 proved to be a purely formal procedure. The status of the migration service has been downgraded – it once again became one of the divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.


International economic migration to and from Russia (the Russian Empire) had only started to gain momentum at the beginning of the twentieth century when it was stifled by the outbreak of the First World War. Since the late 1920s, the Soviet Union was effectively closed to the emigration of Soviet citizens and the immigration of foreigners. After the surge at the end of the Second World War, the annual flows, with a few exceptions, were small in volume. At the same time, intense migration exchange took place between Russia (the RSFSR) and the eastern and southern peripheries of the Soviet Union. As discussed above, for most of the twentieth century, Russia noted a negative migration balance with the east and south of the empire. The picture of internal migration changed in the mid-1970s when, according to official data, Russia – for the first time in many years – noted a population growth due to migration. Intensified immigration happened along with the slowdown in demographic growth due to dropping fertility levels, accompanied by a demographic explosion and growing education levels among the indigenous population in Central Asia and parts of the Caucasus. Since then, Russia has noted a positive migration balance with the rest of the (post-)Soviet world, attracting immigrants from the region with vacancies and higher salaries (with the exception of likhie devyanostye – tumultuous 1990s). Gorbachev’s reforms and the final dismantling of the Iron Curtain led to the release of an emigration potential accumulated in the preceding decades. Despite this intensified post-1991 migration outflow from Russia, its net migration remained positive due to the positive migration balance with the rest of the post-Soviet area. The Russian case exemplifies how political factors may influence the course of the process of migration transition, showing at the same time that, despite the disturbing operation of the former, the latter is largely driven by macro-scale demographic and economic processes.

The concept of a migration cycle allows a certain degree of flexibility and thus may also be used to frame processes deviating from the model sequence of phases proposed by the authors of the concept. In the case of Russia, despite the difficulties related to boundary changes, mobility restrictions and changes to the system of statistical data collection, the concept proved to provide a useful lens through which migration processes ongoing on the territory of Russia may be examined. Taking into account statistical considerations, viewing stability in terms of a consistently positive migration balance as a decisive criterion in defining a country’s place on a migration cycle, Russia has already undergone a migration transition. It may be argued that, by the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had already entered the second – intermediate or transition – stage of the migration cycle, when immigration steadily exceeds emigration. The specificity of the Russian case lies in the fact that one also has to reach out to formerly internal flows, in order to be able to explain later international flows and identify the moment when migration transition took place. We argue that the USSR collapse should not be considered as a pivot point on which Russia moved to the next stage in its migration cycle nor was this political event a key trigger for the change in the migration situation in Eurasia. Although it was accompanied by intensified migration flows of political and ethnic nature in the early post-Soviet years, the actual shift in direction of flows has preceded the political events of the turn of 1980s and 1990s. We contend that, although initially invisible at the level of international migration, the transition seemingly took place in mid-1970s but completed (or revealed) itself in 1992 with the transformation of Russia from a Soviet republic into a federative state and the final opening of international borders accompanying the demise of the USSR. Thus, it may be stated that the migration transition for Russia occurred internally – within the borders of the then single state entity – and hence had a ‘hidden’ nature.

While Russia has undoubtedly already undergone the migration transition, our analyses clearly show that it has not yet reached the stage of a mature immigration country. The need to accept immigration as a necessary supplement to the local workforce has thus far been acknowledged only by a number of experts and a small share of the country’s population. Its political elites and the general public are still far from recognising immigration (of non-Russians/non-Russian-speakers) as an intrinsic part of the nation-building process. Thus, the self-perception criterion for naming a country a mature immigration country is not yet met in Russia. While the country has seen several regulations targeted at immigrants, they mostly concern the labour market or are directed at specific subcategories of immigrants (compatriots), while a true integration policy is still missing. Russia’s labour market has a dual character, with most immigrants employed in the secondary labour market, which is characteristic of the early post-transition (or take-off) phase of a migration cycle (Fassmann and Reeger 2008), when no proper integration policies are in place. This is also testified to by the predominantly temporary character of migration exchange with other post-Soviet states nowadays, with temporary stays for many being the first step to permanent migration.

We acknowledge that, when thinking about the migration cycle, one should disregard the current economic or political situation (as this may turn out to be a temporary fluctuation in the end) and try to view the migration situation through a long-term perspective, looking for more structural (demographic/economic/social etc.) factors and processes. Nevertheless, the current state of affairs in Russia indicates that it is not only far from reaching the mature stage of a migration cycle but may even be moving away from it. In times of economic crisis, immigrants are more likely to be seen as competitors for scarce resources. Restrictive migration policy coupled with the anti-immigrant sentiments of the public may, in turn, lead to a decreasing migration inflow, with all the resulting economic and demographic consequences. This direction is also substantiated by the fact that some of Russia’s traditional migration partners (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Belarus) have been gradually reorienting themselves towards alternative receiving states (see Brunarska 2013; Brunarska, Nestorowicz and Markowski 2014; Denisenko, Strozza and Light 2020).


This work was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, under grant number 2014/14/E/HS4/00387.

Conflict of interest statement

No conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


Zuzanna Brunarska

Mikhail Denisenko


1 As Codagnone (1998: 39) aptly put it, ‘Some of the migration flows characterising Russia in the 1990s are better considered newly relevant rather than genuinely new’.

2 Fassman and Reeger (2008) point to the existence of a legislation gap concerning migration and integration issues – that is, a time lag between the new migration reality and the reaction of the political system. At the same time, they admit that, in some countries, the shift may follow a strategic decision to open up to foreign workforces by introducing active recruitment policies.

3 This wave of state-supported peasant migrations ended in 1929 with the beginning of forced socialist modernisation (industrialisation, the collectivisation of agriculture and the cultural revolution). It resumed in the late 1930s (Platunov 1976).

4 In the case of Kazakhstan, this growth was caused not only by the influx of immigrants from Russia but also by losses to the Kazakh population as a result of the early 1930s’ famine – excess deaths and the emigration of nomads to China (Abylkhozhin, Kozybaev and Tatimov 1989).

5 These statistics were collected by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (Obolensky-Ossinsky 1928).

6 The number of immigrants of USSR origin was, however, much higher as the US statistics captured immigrant flows by country of previous residence, whilst many emigrants from the USSR undertook transit migration through third countries – e.g. Italy or Austria.

7 These included, among others, the Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens (of 25 July 2002), the Law on Citizenship (of 31 July 2002) and the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation, On the Implementation of the State Programme to Facilitate the Voluntary Resettlement of Compatriots Living Abroad to the Russian Federation (dated 22 June 2006).

8 It should be borne in mind, however, that, during this period, the composition of migrants changed greatly in favour of people of Asian origin.

9 Atop of this, the Federal Migration Service estimated the number of irregular temporary labour migrants in Russia in 2015 at about 1.5 million people (RIA Novosti 2016).


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Table A1. Ethnic Russians in the (former) Soviet republics of Central Asia according to subsequent population censuses

Note: In the case of the 1897 census, population structure by mother tongue was used to approximate population structure by ethnicity.

Source: Based on Demoscope-weekly (2021). Perepisi naseleniya Rossiyskoy Imperii, SSSR, 15 novykh nezavisimykh gosudarstv. Online: (accessed: 15 February 2021); BNS (1999). 1999 Population Census. The Bureau of National Statistics of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Online: (accessed: 15 February 2021); BNS (2009). 2009 Population Census. The Bureau of National Statistics of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Online: (accessed: 15 February 2021); NSC (2021). Statistical Census. National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. Online: (accessed: 1 March 2021); Tajstat (2012). Perepis’ naseleniya i zhilishchnogo fonda Respubliki Tadzhikistan 2010. Volume III. Natsional’nyy sostav, vladenie yazykami i grazhdanstvo naseleniya Respubliki Tadzhikistan. Dushanbe: Agency on Statistics under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan.

Table A2. Ethnic Russians in the (former) Soviet republics of the South Caucasus according to subsequent population censuses

Note: In the case of the 1897 census, population structure by mother tongue was used to approximate population structure by ethnicity.

Source: Based on Demoscope-weekly (2021). Perepisi naseleniya Rossiyskoy Imperii, SSSR, 15 novykh nezavisimykh gosudarstv. Online: (accessed: 15 February 2021); ArmStat (2021a). Population Census 2001. Online: (accessed: 1 March 2021); ArmStat (2021b). Population Census 2011. Online: (accessed: 1 March 2021); AzStat (2021). Population of Azerbaijan. Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan: Baku; Geostat (2021a). Population Census 2002 Results. Online: (accessed: 1 March 2021); Geostat (2021b). 2014 General Population Census Results. Online: (accessed: 1 March 2021).

Table A3. Titular nations of Central Asian and South Caucasian republics in Russia according to subsequent population censuses

Note: Excluding the Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic and the Kyrgyz Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic.

Source: Based on Demoscope-weekly. (2021). Perepisi naseleniya Rossiyskoy Imperii, SSSR, 15 novykh nezavisimykh gosudarstv. Online: (accessed: 15 February 2021); Rosstat (2021). Population censuses 2002 and 2010. Online: (accessed: 1 March 2021).

Table A4. Departures for permanent residence abroad by Soviet republics (thousands)


Note: Based on the number of permits to depart for permanent residence abroad issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Source: Based on Goskomstat SSSR (1990). Narodnoe khozyaystvo SSSR. Statisticheskiy ezhegodnik 1988, 1989, 1990. Moscow: Finansy i statistika; Statcommittee of the CIS (2011). 20 Years of the Commonwealth of Independent States 1991–2010: Statistical Abstract. Moscow: Interstate Statistical Committee of Commonwealth of Independent States.

Table A5. Russia’s net migration with the former Soviet republics by ethnic group, 1989–2007 (thousands)

Note: Numbers based on current registration data. 2007 was the last year when information on the ethnicity of migrants was collected in the current registration of arrivals and departures. Hence, after 2007 no statistics on migration by ethnicity are available (having been replaced by data on migration by citizenship).

Source: Based on Zayonchkovskaya (2005). Migratsionnyy krizis i migratsionnyy vzryv v Rossii v 1980-e i 1990-e gody, in: P. Polyan, O. Glezer (eds), Rossiya i ee regiony v XX veke: territoriya – rasselenie – migratsii, pp. 383–412. Moscow: OGI; Rosstat (2000–2008). Chislennost’ i migratsiya naseleniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii. Moscow: Rosstat.

Table A6. The number of foreigners registered for the first time at a place of temporary residence in Russia with declared purpose ‘work’ (thousands)

Note: Until 2014, data on the number of issued documents enabling foreigners to work in Russia (work permits and patents) constituted the main point of reference when tracking the magnitude of labour migration in Russia. Since 2014, only migrants who declared ‘work’ as their purpose of stay at registration are allowed to undertake work in Russia. Besides, since 2015, various categories of foreigner have been exempted from the obligation to possess a work permit or a patent. Therefore, data on the number of foreigners registered at the place of temporary residence with the declared purpose of ‘work’ have gained in significance.

Source: For 2016–2019: Main Directorate for Migration, Ministry of Internal Affairs; for 2010–2015: unpublished data of the Federal Migration Service.

Figure A1. The number of issued documents enabling foreigners to work in Russia (all types of work permit plus patents), 1994–2019 (thousands)

Note: Until 2014, data on the number of issued documents enabling foreigners to work in Russia (work permits and patents) constituted the main point of reference when tracking the magnitude of labour migration in Russia. Since 2014, only migrants who declared ‘work’ as their purpose of stay at registration are allowed to undertake work in Russia. Besides, since 2015, various categories of foreigner have been exempted from the obligation to possess a work permit or a patent. Therefore, data on the number of foreigners registered at the place of temporary residence with the declared purpose of ‘work’ have gained in significance.

Source: Unpublished data of the Federal Migration Service and the Main Directorate for Migration, Ministry of Internal Affairs.

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