Labour Mobility of Migrants from CIS Countries in Russia

  • Published in:
    Central and Eastern European Migration Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2013, pp. 21-38
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Labour migration is discussed here in the context of the transformation of the Russian labour market. Particular attention is paid to the analysis of changes in the labour market and to the way these changes affect the structure of employment for migrant workers, their inclusion in local labour markets, and the prevalence of illegal and informal employment. Of central importance is the analysis of migrants’ vertical occupational mobility. It is concluded that the education, qualifications, and professional knowledge of migrants are not in demand in the Russian labour market; the typical path of migrants in the labour market is downward labour mobility – occupying a position that is worse than the one they previously held in their home country. Upward labour mobility is extremely rare and characteristic almost exclusively of unskilled workers.

Keywords: labour migration, labour market, occupational mobility, vertical mobility, illegal employment


According to forecasts, the inflow of migrants to the Russian Federation will be growing. These trends have been and will be stimulated on the one hand by pushing factors: gaps in labour remuneration, living standards and conditions in the countries of origin and Russia, unemployment in the sending countries, which form large-scale flows of migrants who go to Russia looking for a place to apply their labour skills. On the other hand, labour becomes a deficit: a drastic decrease of the employable population creates a completely new situation in the Russian labour market. According to the forecast of the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat), the Russian population of employable age will decrease by 10.3 million people in 2012-2030. In 2012-2017, the population of employable age will decrease annually by more than 1 million people (Rosstat 2010).

The most important source to compensate for the reduction of labour resources in the nearest decades is migration: according to the ‘average’ inertia-based version of the Rosstat forecast, migration growth in 2012-2030 will be several times higher than the current scale and will constitute 7.2 million people. A major inflow of migrants is expected from the countries of Central Asia, with which there is a large gap in labour remuneration and quality of life: according to the Human Development Index, these states are behind Russia by 36-61 points (UNDP 2011). High unemployment levels in these countries and the availability of places for application of labour in Russia stimulate the inflow of migrants.

The area of concern for Russian migration policy has shifted to the socio-cultural sphere, and particularly the secondary socialisation of migrants, their adaptation and integration potential.

The greatest difficulties are associated with the functioning of the labour market. How do changes in the labour market affect the attractiveness of certain economic activities for migrant workers? Why are they concentrated in certain areas of employment? What is the prevalence of informal and illegal employment? Is there a connection between informal employment and illegal employment? What is the vertical mobility of labour migrants? How does it vary for different economic activities?

In this paper, I attempt to provide research-informed answers to these questions. In the first section, I describe the current migration situation in the Russian Federation and then I briefly present the research methodology. In the next section I move to a discussion of the results of a recent survey conducted among migrant workers in the Russian Federation, giving insights into the labour mobility of migrants on the Russian labour market. Using a dataset that has never before been presented to the English-speaking public is an important contribution of this paper to international scholarship. The last section concludes with policy implications.

The Russian context

Scale of labour migration

According to official data, 1.7 million labour migrants work in Russia legally.1 The estimates of the number of illegal migrants (irregular migrants or undocumented migrants2) are very different and their number may be anywhere from 2.1 million people (Romodanovskiy 2012) to 3-5 million people (The Concept of the State… 2012). The latest estimate of the Federal Migration Service of Russia (FMS), a bit overestimated, is 3.5 million people (Romodanovskiy 2013).3

Thus the number of labour migrants can be anywhere from 3.8 million people to 6.7 million people. The most probable estimate is 4.5-5.0 million labour migrants.4

Changes in employment structure: implications for labour migration

In the 2000s, major changes in the labour market took place: a sharp decline in employment in agriculture and manufacturing accompanied by growth in the share of people employed in wholesale and retail trade and construction (Table 1).

As in other countries, these sectors tend to employ immigrants, as native populations seem reluctant to accept such jobs. There are several reasons for this: first, in the case of these activities there are, as a rule, long working hours or inconvenient work schedules. Second, in most of these areas of employment wages are lower than for other types of activities; e.g. those employed in hotels and restaurants get 64 per cent of the national average, those employed in community, social and personal service earn 78 per cent, and in trade 88 per cent (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 416). Third, the work is usually characterised by difficult conditions, i.e. dirty, difficult, dangerous (the 3Ds) and often humiliating jobs. Staff turnover in these activities is extremely high: among those employed in 2010 in hotels and restaurants, 61.4 per cent of the average number of employees dropped out; in trade, 58.2 per cent; in construction, 49 per cent; and in community, social and personal service, 29 per cent (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 281).

Table 1. Average annual structure of employment by economic activitya, per cent

a The classification is given based on the National Classification of Economic Activities (NCEA), the Russian counterpart of the Statistical Classification of Economic Activities in the European Community – NCEA, Rev.1.1 (NCEA 1993).]

Source: Trud i zanyatost (2011): 185, 186; Rosstat (2013).

Transformation of migration flows

First, changes in the structure of jobs and increasing demand for labour requiring different skills have contributed to changes in the structure of migration flows. In 2000-2010 the share of migrants from Central Asia, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service, rose from 6.3 per cent to 54.8 per cent of all migrant workers (Table 2).

By 2011 their share had already reached 71 per cent: 45.0 per cent from Uzbekistan, 19.3 per cent from Tajikistan, and 6.6 per cent from Kyrgyzstan.5

Second, the calendar of migrations has changed: seasonal migrations have been replaced by circular and long-term migration. Yet, similarly to the situation, when circular migration replaced seasonal migration, now, in turn, circular migration is being replaced with long-term migration: ‘circularity came to an end’ (Castaneda 2007: 59). Motives for migrants’ desire to settle in Russia are analogues to those of Mexican migrants: they could keep their jobs all year, and they HAD to keep them all year in order to keep them at all (Castaneda 2007: 60).

According to data from a large-scale survey, 40.8 per cent of migrants were long-term migrants who had not left Russia for over one year, 38.0 per cent were circular migrants (including 11.6 per cent seasonal migrants who had stayed for under six months), and 21.2 per cent first arrived to Russia for work in 2011 (Mukomel 2013; CEPRS 2011). Similar results were obtained in other surveys conducted in Russia (Tyuryukanova 2011: 37-38).

Table 2. The share of foreign nationals engaged in labour activities in Russia by countries

a Georgia stopped its CIS membership in August 2009.

Source: FMS of Russia, legal workers (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 302).

Third, the schedule of labour migration has changed. In the previous period, a sharp upsurge in the inflows of migrant workers in the early spring and mass departures at the end of the working season were registered. However, in recent years the influx of migrants has been registered both in spring and autumn. Moreover, the peak flow of migrants shifted to September and October, when young migrants enter the Russian market after graduation from schools and other educational institutions.

Fourth, a ‘feminisation’ of migration is underway. Women have started to dominate some migration flows: women make up 52.3 per cent of migration from Moldova, and the share of women among Ukrainian migrants is 60.5 per cent.6 The same process takes place among migrants from Central Asia: women already make up 38.7 per cent of all migrants from Kyrgyzstan.

Labour migration policies

The national policy on labour migration in Russia covers three main areas: employment problems, problems of national security/illegal migration, and demographic challenges. Accordingly, the policy on labour migration was formally defined in the 2000s by the following legal acts: the Concepts of Activities in the Labour Market (The Concept of Activities… 2003; The Concept of Activities… 2008); the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation until 2020 (The National Security Strategy… 2009); the Concept of Regulation of Migration Processes in the Russian Federation (The Concept of Regulation… 2003); the Concept of the State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation through to 2025 (Concept 2012); and the Concept of Demographic Policy (The Concept of Demographic… 2001; The Concept of Demographic… 2007).

The work of migrants is regulated in Russian legislation by the ‘On Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons’ law (as of July 25, 2002, No. 115-ФЗ, Art. 2, p. 1).

Illegal entry and illegal stay in Russia, or illegal transit through the Russian Federation, is considered to be illegal migration (according to the 1996 Criminal Code). The lack of a work permit is interpreted as a violation of the rules of residence and foreign citizens working in Russia without a permit may be deported (according to the 2001 Code of Administrative Offences). Given that the vast majority of migrants come to Russia based on a visa-free-travel regime, and migration registration is quite simple and accessible, the main violation is the lack of work permits. Thus in Russian migration literature illegal migration is mostly understood as work without work permits.

Research methodology

This paper is based on the following statistical data: Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat);7 Departmental statistics of the Federal Migration Service (FMS of Russia);8 database of the Russian FMS (Central Data Bank of foreigners and stateless persons, CDB FSP).9 I also include secondary analysis of materials from sociological surveys, including large-scale surveys: a population survey on employment issues conducted by the State Statistics Service of Russia (PSEI 2011);10 the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey11 (RLMS); ‘Obshestvennoe mnenie’ Foundation (‘Public Opinion’ Foundation) (FOM);12 sociological research on the migration profile, problems of adaptation and integration of migrants conducted for National Research University, Higher School of Economics under the author's guidance (CEPRS 2011).13

The paper presents results of the last CEPRS survey and enriches them with data from the other sources. The research included a sociological survey of migrants (8 499 respondents). Also, qualitative studies (18 focus groups, 35 in-depth expert interviews) took place in 8 regions of Russia (CEPRS 2011). The ‘snowball’ sampling was used. We analysed vertical mobility of labour migrants from CIS countries, either employed or temporarily unemployed, seeking employment or ready to start working and who have provided information on their occupation (N = 7 019). Particular attention was paid to the selection of respondents who had working experience prior to their arrival in Russia (N = 4 420), as well as of those who changed their employer while in Russia (N = 2 278).

Labour mobility has been analysed on the basis of migrants’ employment within differing time periods. The Russian Classification of Occupations, a Russian version of the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88), has been used. ISCO-88, however, does not provide information on the status of labour positions or their hierarchy, which may be indispensable in the analysis of labour mobility. To properly map it, the EGP (Erikson-Goldthorpe-Portocarero)14 classification was used, which represents an orderly scale of status of employment positions by four characteristics: nature of labour (intellectual, physical, agricultural), required years of education, number of subordinates, whether self-employed or hired labour.

Transfer from the four-fold ISCO-88 typology to EGP Class Categories is performed according to the algorithm proposed by H. Ganzeboom and D. Treimam (Ganzeboom, Treiman 2003: 176-193).

Results of the research

Profiles of labour migrants

The principal motives of migrants coming to Russia are related to work and wages. Prior to coming to Russia, only 59.8 per cent of respondents worked in their home country.

Unemployment is usually higher among immigrants, especially among the youth (Crepaz 2008: 217-218; Schain 2008: 17). The Russian case differs drastically: only 11.2 per cent of those under 25, and 10.4 per cent among those aged 20-24, had no working experience, whereas among Russian citizens these figures run as high as 13.1 per cent and 12.2 per cent respectively (Rosstat 2012). The level of education of migrants is considerably lower than that of the receiving community: in the structure of the Russian economy, 28.5 per cent of employees have higher or incomplete higher education, 46.8 per cent – secondary vocational and specialised training, 20 per cent – general secondary, with only 4.3 per cent below secondary (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 66). Among migrants these figures were 14.5 per cent, 27.2 per cent, 47.6 per cent and 10.7 per cent, respectively (CEPRS 2011). Most of the respondents were employed and 8.1 per cent were temporarily unemployed or seeking employment. The least number of unemployed was among long-term migrants. Unemployment was the most widespread among those migrants who came to work in Russia for the first time. The share of migrants seeking employment was much higher among this latter category than among circular and, especially, long-term migrants (Table 3).

Table 3. Economic activity among migrants according to migration frequency, per cent of respondentsa

a N = 6 979

Source: CEPRS (2011).

Almost everywhere, immigrants tend to be highly concentrated in certain sectors, but these sectors differ from one country to another (Stalker 2000). The main types of migrants’ activities in Russia are: wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and household goods (36.3 per cent); construction (22.6 per cent); community, social and personal service (13.2 per cent); and transport and communications (8.3 per cent).15 Other types of economic activities account for less than 20 per cent of all the employed.

Men prevail among the jobseekers (72.1 per cent). Their activities are more diversified than those of women. In addition to the main areas of employment for men, i.e. construction (30.9 per cent of employed) and trade (28.9 per cent), men also work in community, social and personal service (13.5 per cent), and transport and communications (9.7 per cent).

Most women work in trade (52.8 per cent). 12.6 per cent of women work in hotels and restaurants, 11.6 per cent in community, social and personal service. Women, especially in older age groups, tend to be less demanding when choosing a place of work, and the areas of their possible employment offer very little opportunity for professional growth.

Types of economic activities of permanent and circular migrants, as well as of those who only started working in Russia, vary (Table 4).

Table 4. Working migrants of varying migration frequency according to principal types of economic activities, occupation and class, per cent of respondents

a N = 6 953

b N = 6 586

c N = 6 583

d Among respondents there were no farmers, smallholders and other self-employed workers in primary production.

Source: CEPRS (2011).

If permanent migrants prevail in trade, then circular migrants are attracted by construction and transport – the types of activity enabling them to travel back home to their families frequently.

The comparison of migrants’ and local population’s employment according to ISCO-88 shows that migrants mostly take the positions of unqualified workers (40.8 per cent as opposed to 10.8 per cent in the entire structure of the Russian economy), qualified employees of service industries, housing and communal service and trade (24.6 per cent as opposed to 14.4 per cent in the entire employment structure). Migrants are rare in professional groups typical for Russian nationals: professionals of upper and medium qualifications – 1.6 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively; within the entire structure of the Russian economy – 18.8 per cent and 15.4 per cent respectively (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 96).

Unlike Russian nationals, migrants mostly take positions not requiring high qualifications or educational level (respectively 10.8 per cent and 34.3 per cent (FMS 2011)). This is a particular characteristic of newcomers to the Russian labour market: over 2/3 of them work as unskilled workers –group 9 of the EPG.

Illegal and informal employment

One of the reasons that migrants take jobs that do not meet their training and qualifications is the absence of Russian citizenship, significantly limiting their choice of job opportunities. Along with direct access restrictions in the case of public and municipal service, Russian citizenship in many cases is required for work in the public sector. An additional obstacle is the requirement to go through a burdensome recognition of qualifications procedure. However, the main cause of downward mobility among labour migrants is the lack of legal grounds for work (illegal employment) and informal employment.

At least 60 per cent of labour migrants work in Russia illegally. Lack of legal grounds for work in Russia depends on the type of economic activity or the occupational group. A very high concentration of illegal employees is typical in trade, where 41.9 per cent of all illegal migrants earn their money, of whom 23.1 per cent are skilled workers, i.e. sales persons, merchandise specialists, etc., and 15.3 per cent are unskilled workers. Illegal employment is also widespread in housekeeping service: e.g., 85 per cent of migrants from Ukraine, involved in housekeeping activities, work illegally.

Along with illegal employment, informal employment is prevalent when official contracts with an employer are not respected.16 No more than two-fifths of migrant workers have a written contract with their employer. In the case of most popular types of activities, it is common practice to hire on the basis of oral agreements: in construction, 63.4 per cent of migrants work under such conditions; in hotels and restaurants, 59.5 per cent of all migrants; and in household service, 80 per cent. Informality is a general problem of the Russian economy and widespread among Russian citizens too. As research demonstrates, even in the case of Russians, the probability of informal employment is high: in the first place in agriculture, then in community, social and personal service, the care sector, and market sales (ca 30 per cent informally employed (Gimpelson, Zhudina 2011: 22)).

There is a direct connection between informal employment and illegal employment: according to our survey, two-thirds of illegal employees work on the basis of oral agreements (Table 5).

Table 5. The share of employed on the basis of verbal agreements among migrants of varying migration frequency and legal status, per centa

a N = 6 453

Source: CEPRS (2011).

Informal employment has its advantages, such as higher pay and more job opportunities, as employers are more willing to hire employees with whom they are not bound by formal commitments and for whom they do not pay taxes. The flip side of the compromise is that the employer might not observe labour and safety regulations, as state bodies supervise only official employees. As a result, injuries among migrant workers are quite frequent, especially in construction. There are conditions that will tend to induce informalisation. And informalisation can easily lead to a demand for immigrant workers (Sassen 1990: 24).

Informal employment and the employment of foreigners without legal grounds is not so much a consequence of their ‘profitability’ for the employer and employee, but rather a result of imperfect laws, and especially their imperfect enforcement.17 Most of the interviewed employers noted that hiring foreign workers does not have any advantages compared to hiring local workers. Strict rules on the three-month duration of a work permit without a job contract make legalisation unprofitable due to a dilemma faced by an employee: either buy a permit or get the permit officially but waste a lot of time, during which s/he could have been working and getting paid.

Similarly to informal entrepreneurship, informal and/or illegal employment is the result of true market forces in the economy squeezed by the iron grip of state regulations, as well as a reaction to unwanted state intervention (Portes 1994: 427, 447). According to Graziano Battistella, regardless of the main responsibilities of the different actors (recruiters, social networks, relatives, other intermediaries, and migrants themselves) it appears evident that irregularity requires the connivance of more than one actors, and often includes government officials (Battistella 2007: 210).

Overtime employment and wages

George Borjas claims that wages of the migrants from the latest flows may never come to parity with the wages of the local workers and supports his claims with evidence of the worsening economic situation and newcomers’ failures to assimilate economically (Borjas 1996: 74; Borjas 1999: 189). In Russia, migrants’ wages are practically the same as the wages of the locals employed in similar positions. But most migrants work from 9 to 11 hours a day, 6 days a week. A migrant’s average workweek is 61 hours. Only 6.7 per cent of Russian citizens worked over 40 hours a week in 2010, with an average workweek duration of 38 hours (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 97). 

The lack of legal grounds for work, along with informal employment, contributes to the over-exploitation of migrant labour. Forced labour also happens, but the majority of migrants deliberately work long hours in order to earn more money.

Those with no legal grounds for work are especially hard-working, as their workweek is 63 hours on average. The longest hours are worked in agriculture, trade, community, social and personal service, hotels and restaurants, especially in the case of unskilled workers.

Labour mobility of migrants

Most migrants with previous work experience in Russia – about 52 per cent of all migrants – worked at home: in the wholesale and retail trade, 18 per cent; construction, 16 per cent; transport and communication, 11.7 per cent; and agriculture, 10.7 per cent. Upon arrival in Russia the vast majority of migrants are forced to change the type of economic activity they engage in: fewer than 30 per cent are involved in the same type of activity as at home. Migrants turn en masse to trade, construction, community, social and personal services: 71 per cent of migrants with previous work experience currently work in those areas.

Only 6.9 per cent of migrants who had worked in healthcare before coming to Russia are employed in this sector in Russia. The share of those employed in education is even lower and stands at 3.4 per cent. Almost half of those who used to work in healthcare and education now work in trade, and every seventh person in community, social and personal services.

The education, skills and professional knowledge of migrants are not in demand on the Russian labour market; migrants turn en masse to lower level occupational groups. 60 per cent of migrants who worked before coming to Russia had to change the occupational group to which they belonged at home. A large proportion of migrants perform work that does not require special skills. In the national economy, unskilled workers make up 10.8 per cent of all the employed18 and 29.4 per cent among foreigners, while in the case of migrants from CIS countries, 34.3 (according to ISCO-88).19

Upon their arrival to Russia, the majority of migrants acquire lower social status than they had in their home country. Downward vertical mobility is characteristic for the representatives of all status groups except for the lowest two – unskilled workers (Class Categories 9 and 10, EGP classification) (Table 6).

Table 6. Vertical professional mobility of migrants previously employed in their home country (worked at home / work in Russia, EGP class categories)a, per centb

a numerically insignificant groups 5 and 11 were excluded from the analysis.

b N = 4 220

Source: CEPRS (2011).

Over one-third of top-managers and management staff, representatives of the highest status groups (1, 2) take the lowest positions of unskilled workers. Only 7.2 per cent of top and middle managers succeed in maintaining the same position as they occupied in their home country, 92.8 per cent of them occupy lower status positions. A similar situation occurs to workers who engaged in non-manual routine labour in their home country and who are massively (over 90 per cent) recruited as unskilled workers in Russia (Table 7).

Table 7. Change in the status of migrants previously employed in their home country (EGP class categories)a

a N = 4 220

Source: CEPRS (2011).

Migrants previously employed in their home country fall into two categories: a) those who came in Russia and who did not change occupational group, and b) those who came and changed their occupational group. Those in the first category are more likely to retain their home country position, unlike those in the second: 46.4 per cent and 39.5 per cent respectively (Table 8).

Table 8. Vertical mobility of various migrant groups (EGP class categories), per cent

Source: CEPRS (2011).

A migrant’s first workplace in Russia usually does not correspond to the level of professional training of the migrant, who has no option but to accept any job offered. The typical path of migrants in the labour market is downward labour mobility – occupying a position that is worse than the one they previously held in their home country (for 45.9 per cent). Only 37.9 per cent of migrants kept the same position as they had in their home country, and 16.2 per cent were able to obtain a higher position. Upward labour mobility is extremely rare and characteristic almost exclusively of unskilled workers (Table 8).

As time passes and migrants adapt themselves to the environment, some of them manage to take up the positions corresponding to their level of qualifications and professional training. The change of workplace in Russia is accompanied by upward mobility in the case of 28.1 per cent of migrants. Only 15.9 per cent of migrants experienced further downward mobility, and 56.6 per cent of migrants kept their position. Upward mobility is open not only to unskilled workers (groups 9 and 10), but also to skilled workers, masters and foremen in manual labour (groups 7-8, Table 9).

Table 9. Vertical mobility of migrants who changed their class categories in Russia (employed in Russia for the first time / work at their last position, EGP class categories), per centa

a N = 2 278

Source: CEPRS (2011).

36.1 per cent of migrants who started working in Russia as unskilled workers improved their labour positions, mostly moving to be skilled workers or clerks.

At the same time, there is ‘secondary’ downward mobility. For the majority of skilled migrants, the problem lies not in upgrading their status, but in retaining it: three-quarters of managers and over half of workers employed in some kind of routine non-manual labour do not succeed in retaining their employment status – 31.6 per cent of those who started as skilled labourers later work as unskilled workers.

Positions that do not require any specific education are occupied by migrants with good education: 34.1 per cent migrants with complete and incomplete higher education and 45.3 per cent of migrants with special secondary (vocational) training work in unskilled jobs (Table 10).

Table 10. Migrants of various educational levels according to class categories, EGP class categories, per cent

Source: CEPRS (2011).

The demand for unskilled labour is covered for the most part by skilled workers. ‘Status in exchange for a wage’ is a conscious choice for migrants, but this fact does not eliminate the problem of inefficient investment of human capital on the part of sending states, and the inefficient use of it by Russia. Usually, semi-skilled migrants compete for employment with semi-skilled locals (Borjas 1999: 189), but in Russia skilled migrant-workers complete with semi-skilled locals.

The local population is satisfied with the absence of social advancement among migrants and restricted options for their vertical mobility. Russian citizens react negatively to accepting high- and medium-skilled migrants, while being rather tolerant of unskilled workers. Only 3 per cent of locals think that highly-skilled professionals should mostly be attracted, with 59 per cent opting for bringing in unskilled labour (for transport, housing service, trade, construction, agriculture) and 47 per cent – street and house cleaners (FOM 2012).

Most migrants, irrespective of their personal merit, are, thus, unable to change their ‘bad’ employment positions. This situation turns into a palpable social problem not only for migrants, but for the receiving society as well.


Together with push factors, the massive inflow of labour migrants to Russia has been fostered by dramatic changes in the Russian labour market. These have been brought about by an unprecedented decrease in the working-age population as well as changes in the employment structure. Areas of economic activity with ‘special’ working conditions (3Ds): construction, trade, community, social and personal services, have proved unattractive for the local people and created , demand for working hands, which has involved the inflow of labour migrants to a large extent.

Social practices of inclusion of migrants in the Russian labour market, everyday interaction with the authorities, social institutions and the population promote social exclusion instead of adaptation and integration. The typical path of migrants in the labour market is downward labour mobility – occupying a position that is worse than the one they previously held in their home country. Upward labour mobility is extremely rare and characteristic almost exclusively of unskilled workers. Education, qualifications and the professional knowledge of migrants are not demanded in the Russian labour market. The demand for unskilled labour is met, to a large extent, by qualified staff. The ineffective investment of human capital has become a serious challenge both for Russia and for the sending countries.

The main reasons for diminishing labour mobility among migrants is, in many cases, the lack of legal grounds for employment and informal employment. At least 60 per cent of labour migrants work illegally in Russia; not more than 40 per cent of migrants have signed contracts with an employer; and there is a direct link between informal employment and illegal labour activities. (Perhaps the qualification and education documents provided by migrants in the sending countries do not correspond with Russian standards and requirements of the employers. This hypothesis requires checking and is a promising direction for further research.)

The Russian labour market, its institutional shape and its rules, means social inequality between labour migrants and Russian citizens in: access to certain types of labour; safety at work; working conditions; remuneration for work.

The studies indicate several layers of problems, the solution of which requires corrections in the laws as well as law enforcement. First, it is necessary to recognise the transformation of migration flows, which is accompanied by large-scale flows of permanent and circular migrants.

Second, it is necessary to adjust the instruments that are currently oriented exclusively towards seasonal labour migrants.

It is necessary to reform the system of migration registration and issuance of work permits for long-term migrants. They work and live in Russia for years, often with families, the members of which are integrated in the receiving society – and they are perceived by the government as temporary migrants. They should get easier access to residence permits or permits for part-time residence, which would allow them to work legally and not feel segregated from Russian society.

Civilised conditions for the legalisation of circular migrants’ labour, and stimulation of their re-orientation towards integration into Russian society should appear.

Finally, serious attention should be given to the prevention of the social exclusion of first-time labour migrants in Russia, and to the creation of effective instruments of their secondary socialisation and adaptation to Russian realities.

Without recognition of the evident changes in labour migration, all efforts to regulate it will be ineffective and will lead to negative consequences, determined by the growth of illegal migration.


The author thanks Agnieszka Weinar, Shushanik Makaryan and anonymous reviewers for useful comments on an earlier draft.


1 Including those who have work permits, as well as permits for work for individuals (so-called patents). Only these documents allow migrants from the CIS countries to work legally.

2 The terms ‘irregular migrants’ or ‘undocumented migrants’ are not used in the Russian legislation.

3 The estimate of the FMS is based on data on foreigners who overstayed and, presumably, work in Russia. However, not all of them are labour migrants, since they include people of unemployable age and those who came with other goals. According to an expert consensus estimate, there were 4 million labour migrants in 2009:

4 There are also other estimates (up to 15 million people), which are methodologically not transparent and go against quite reliable data from the Central Data Bank of foreigners and stateless persons (CDB FSP).

5 Including work permits and patents allowing work for physical persons.

6 Similar results were obtained in other surveys conducted in Russia (Tyuryukanova 2011: 12).

7 See Rosstat web-site

8 See web-site of FMS of Russia

9 CDB FSP keeps personalised evidence of foreigners, which allows the classification of those registered with the migration service and legally employed by elaborated parameters: gender, age, length of stay, citizenship, employment sector, etc.

10 A survey of the population by place of residence in the entire Russian Federation, urban and rural areas. In 2010, about 69,000 people aged 15-72 years (31,300 households) or 0.06 per cent of the population of this age were surveyed monthly; the total annual volume of the sample was 831,000 people (345,000 households)

11 RLMS is longitudinal survey of households in Russia (about 10,000 households).

12 FOMSOC project, MegaFOM survey. 24,500 respondents were surveyed, October 2011 (FOM 2011)

13 The survey conducted by the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies (CEPRS). The study included a sociological survey of migrants (8,499 respondents). A ‘snowball’ method was used for sampling. Also, qualitative studies (18 focus groups, 35 in-depth expert interviews) took place in 8 regions of Russia (CEPRS 2011).

14 Because of its complex origins it is variously referred to in the literature as the Goldthorpe, Erikson-Goldthorpe, and CASMIN (Comparative Study of Social Mobility in Industrial Nations) typology (Marshall 1998).

15 Employed, including those employed in Russia in 2011, but currently not working and looking for work (CEPRS 2011).

16 Hereafter, informal employment is defined in the aforementioned sense and includes those who are employed in the informal sector (including self-employed) as well as the formal sector.

17 The survey took place at 1,500 enterprises, as assigned by the NRU HSE, October 2011 (Levada-Center 2011). Different employers’ groups, similarly to the situation in other countries (Somerville 2007: 108), promote attracting different groups of labour migrants: large scale business (Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs) opts for attracting qualified specialists; unions of small and medium enterprises (‘Opora Rossii’, ‘Business Russia’) stand for attracting migrants irrespective of their qualifications.

18 2010 (Trud i zanyatost 2011: 81-82).

19 Third quarter of 2011, the FMS of Russia, legally employed.


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