Are there many “illegal migrants” in Russia?

Human rights organization Civic Assistance and “Such Cases” launch the joint project “Myths about Migrations” where experts refute stereotypes of foreigners living in Russia.

Sergei Abashin, Professor of Anthropology at the European University of St Petersburg, explains how many “illegal” migrants are in Russia.

The problem with counting the number of “illegal” migrants, or “not fully documented” or “unregulated” as it is more correct to call them, is that we do not have a clear criteria for illegality.

The only figure that can be more or less adequately calculated is the number of foreign citizens in Russia whose work activity is “unregulated”. In 2017, about 4.5 million immigrants from the Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) entered Russia and were put on the migration register with the purpose of working. According to official data, about 25% of these could have no legal basis for working in Russia.  

According to the law, a foreign citizen who is in Russia for a relatively long time and who works here must have a number of documents to allow them to stay: confirmation of legal entry into the country, registration at the place of residence, work permit for foreigners or a patent for the right to work activities and checks on payment of a patent for residents of the CIS countries (for immigrants from countries that are members of the Eurasian Union, a patent is not required), an employment contract and so on.

The absence of information or mistake on only one of these documents formally makes the migrant “unregulated” or “illegal”, and could result in a fine, deportation, and a ban on entry into Russia. Legislation regarding migrants is also organised in such a way that several minor administrative violations can also make foreigners “illegal”, even though they have all the necessary permits to stay and work in Russia. In other words, the types of “unregulated activity” can be very diverse, including with varying levels of severity of consequences for Russian society, and statistics can not always correctly account for them.

For over 30 years, Committee of Civic Assistance has been helping migrants who find themselves in difficult situations. At the end of 2011, human rights defenders launched the Hate Crimes project where the organization provides free legal and humanitarian assistance to victims of violent hate crimes.

Illustration by Rita Cherepanova