- With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia faced an entirely new environment in terms of immigration. While the country had seen the mass exodus of Jews during the late tsarist period and significant emigration associated with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and ensuing civil war (1918–1922), few Soviet citizens had the opportunity to leave the country during its seven decades of existence. Due to the totalitarian nature of its government, even fewer people sought to immigrate to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Immigration from the country has been a desirable aspect of social mobility in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia.Under Mikhail Gorbachev, political reform allowed for a trickle of emigrants, while the comparative benefits of life in the USSR versus their homelands attracted a modest number of immigrants from Vietnam, Mongolia, the Middle East, and Africa. After 1991, however, millions of Russians quit the country for economic opportunities abroad, particularly in the United States, Germany, Italy, Australia, and Canada, while many of the country’s Jews left for Israel. Economic success proved difficult for most migrants, with cases of former doctors, engineers, and professors taking menial jobs in the West to make ends meet, while at the same time harming Russia through a debilitating “brain drain.” Concurrently, many ethnic Russians living in the near abroad “returned” to Russia when faced with the prospect of living as second-class citizens in their new states of residence; many other people of “Soviet identity” also migrated to Russia during the 1990s as the result of internal strife in former Soviet republics, particularly Tajikistan, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan.The Russian Federation became the second most popular destination for immigration by 2005 (behind the U.S.), commanding more than 12 million foreign-born residents; of these, more than 10 million are considered to be in the country illegally. However, most of these people were born in the Soviet Union and would have been considered “internal migrants” until 1992. Thus, unlike most other countries where the immigrant population lacks knowledge of the local language, the majority of these migrants possess Russian language skills. The largest sending countries from within post-Soviet space are the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, but large numbers of immigrants also come from the South Caucasus and Moldova. Outside of the Commonwealth of Independent States, China and North Korea are the most important countries of origin for immigrants.While immigrants undoubtedly contribute to Russia’s gross domestic product (some estimates suggest they account for more than 10 percent of GDP), most Russians exaggerate their number and influence in the country and see immigrants as a drain on the economy. Ethnic violence against foreigners has skyrocketed in the past decade, with increasingly gruesome attacks on people of Central/East Asian or Caucasian appearance, including non-Slav citizens of the Russian Federation. Resentment toward internal immigration is also high, as large numbers of Russian citizens have left their ethnic republics or oblasts in Asiatic Russia or the North Caucasus to live and work in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or other metropolitan areas. Despite social problems, the Russian government recognizes the current demographic crisis and the need for workers, both legal and illegal.As large immigrant communities flock to Russian cities, new immigrants from Russia have formed substantial communities in such countries as the United States, Germany, France, and particularly Great Britain, resulting in the BBC referring to London as “Moscow on the Thames” in 2004. These new immigrants rarely give up their citizenship; rather they see themselves as global citizens, who migrate to areas that are economically and culturally favorable. Some of these residents are very affluent and wield significant influence in their country of residence’s economic and political life (e.g., Roman Abramovich in England).In recent years, a number of schemes have been implemented to attract expatriate Russians, including Old Believer families who have not been resident on Russian soil for decades. However, forcing these “returnees” to settle in Siberia and other inhospitable locations has doomed the program. More aggressive suggestions include inviting Indian, Vietnamese, and Latin American guest workers to the country to alleviate the need for Chinese and Koreans, both of whom have territorial claims on the Russian Far East, and Muslims, who are seen as diluting the Orthodox Christian character of the new Russia.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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