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    Immigration to Russia hits 20mln annually - official

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    MOSCOW, March 15 (RIA Novosti) - Over 20 million people come to Russia every year as part of a post-Soviet "migration boom", and half of them are in the country illegally, a senior Russian migration official said Wednesday.

    "More than 20 million migrants annually come to Russia, mainly from former Soviet republics. Experts say about 10 million of them do so illegally," Federal Migration service head Konstantin Romodanovsky told the State Duma, parliament's lower house.

    Romodanovsky said Russia's economic losses due to immigration total $7 billion annually.

    "It is a huge [amount of] damage to the country. Migrants evade taxes and duty payments," he said, adding that the loss equaled total budget spending on education and healthcare.

    Migrants, he said, also transfer considerable funds abroad illegally.

    "Funds transferred by Georgian guest workers to their homeland account for 20% of Georgia's GDP," Romodanovsky said. Illegal money transfer to Moldova makes up 30% of the country's GDP, while funds sent to Tajikistan are twice as much as the country's budget, he said.

    Romodonovsky said 1.5 million civil cases had been filed for violations of migration laws in 2005. He also pointed to the existence of a "slave labor market".

    Romodanovsky said 361,000 people in 2003-2004 had been granted Russian citizenship, and 507,000 people in 2005. Nevertheless, he said, Russia should maintain limits on immigrant numbers.

    "Not everyone is welcome here," he said.

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