MOSCOW, September 19 (RIA Novosti) – When it comes to dealing with Russia’s rising illegal migration problem, adopting a firm policy delivers better results than taking a soft approach, a top migration official said Thursday.
A new policy implemented this year, which bars entry into Russia for foreigners who have violated immigration laws, has reduced the number of people willing to break the law in order to live and work here, Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) said at a news conference.
He asserted that 215,000 foreigners have already been barred from Russia since January this year – a number, he argued, that motivates others to legalize their stay.
As a result of the new entry law, in combination with the launch of Russia’s license policy – a mechanism introduced in 2010 to allow foreigners from countries with which Russia has a visa-free regime to legally work in private households – the number of foreigners working legally in Russia has doubled, he said, and the sale of licenses has contributed 16 billion rubles ($506 million) to state coffers.
“This confirms the hypothesis that we won’t get a result using candy or a carrot. We need a stick, and the stick in the form of closing entry [to migration lawbreakers] worked and produced a result,” Romodanovsky said.
His comments were at odds with a proposal made this week by Russia’s business ombudsman, Boris Titov, to grant illegal migrant workers amnesty as a way to deal with the country’s illegal laborer issues.
In an op-ed published on Ekho Moskvy radio station’s website on Tuesday, Titov argued that business in Russia needs a considerable inflow of legal migrants to thrive, and that legal status should therefore be granted to migrants already working in the country.
“Believe me, as a person who has been working in business for many years, everyone will win,” Titov wrote. He warned that tightening migration laws would have a negative economic effect, and that Russia would risk losing a necessary migrant workforce which might instead head to neighboring states like Kazakhstan or Belarus in search of jobs.
If illegal migrants were to obtain legal status in Russia, on the other hand, they’d be able to better contribute to the economy, the ombudsman said.
According to migration officials, the majority of illegal workers come to Russia from post-Soviet states with which Russia has no entry visa requirements. Millions of such migrants live and work in Russia either unlawfully or under illegally obtained permits. Human rights advocates have repeatedly complained that illegal migration is being fostered by corrupt state officials, bureaucracy and employers, urging the government to help ease the legalization process for migrants in Russia.
A United Nations study published earlier this month ranked Russia as the world’s second-largest host of foreign migrants, with over 11 million. However, the Federal Migration Service estimates the number of illegal migrants at 3 million.
With recent polls showing that most Russians have negative attitudes toward migrants, the immigration issue has become a major focal point for Russian society, featuring heavily in campaign rhetoric leading up September’s elections for Moscow mayor.
Sergei Sobyanin, the incumbent mayor who won back his seat, has repeatedly called for tougher measures against illegal migration, saying that migrants contribute heavily to crime in the capital.
In August, police cracked down on migrants with a string of raids on marketplaces and other areas with large migrant populations, detaining thousands.
Following a proposal by President Vladimir Putin, the Russian government plans to introduce rules by 2015 that would require residents of former Soviet republics to use international passports, as opposed to internal ones, when traveling to Russia.