Crossroads Asia

Migrants Unwelcome: Siberian Region Bans Foreign Workers From Key Jobs

Meanwhile, fewer Tajiks are traveling to Russia looking for work, already.

Migrants Unwelcome: Siberian Region Bans Foreign Workers From Key Jobs
Credit: Kalabi Yau /

Bad news for foreign migrant workers in one Siberian region: Vladimir Gorodetsky, the governor of the Novosibirsk region, issued a decree banning foreign workers from a number of key job sectors, ostensibly to protect such positions for Russian citizens. The Siberian Times reports that foreign workers are no longer welcome to a wide array of jobs: positions in schools or kindergartens are off limits, as are jobs as drivers, miners, fishermen or hunters; positions in law, finance or accounting are right out, as are secretarial, editorial or translation positions. Reportedly there is a three-month deadline for employers to comply. Novosibirsk, the capital of the region, is Russia’s third-largest city.

Tajiks are not the only group of foreign migrant workers in Russia–and Novosibirsk is not the only region with an influx of foreign workers–but the difficulties they face are emblematic of the problems faced by many. Tough economic climates at home send them abroad in search of work, many following the paths tread by millions before them. Russia’s economic slowdown, stemming from sanctions and the crash of energy prices beginning in late 2014, has pulled down regional economies, themselves beset by stagnant policies, lack of diversification, and other systemic issues. Traveling to Russia to work doesn’t make a person rich, but it’s often better than staying.

Throughout the economic turbulence of recent years, Tajiks have continued to travel to Russia for work. Many thousands make seasonal journeys, some legally and many illegally. Many work in dangerous, dirty, or thankless jobs–as janitors and street sweepers or in agricultural fields–many women work as nannies. Throughout the year the flow fluctuates, with more jobs available during harvest season, for example, and fewer in winter.

But recent reports indicate that fewer Tajiks are making the trek overall. According to Asia Plus, the Tajik migration service reported a nine percent decline in the number of Tajiks traveling abroad for work in the first seven months of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015. The report said that 341,000 had traveled to Russia and 7,200 went to Kazakhstan in the first seven months of 2016. While fewer have gone, fewer are returning: the report also noted a 10 percent decrease in the number of Tajiks returning from working abroad.

Keeping in mind that the Tajik official numbers are unlikely to be comprehensive–difficult to verify and they likely do not factor in illegal immigrants–we can nonetheless make some inferences from the trend. The decline in the number traveling abroad to look for work can be linked to increasing difficulty in getting into Russia–laws that took effect on January 1, 2015 mandated various language and civics tests–and heightened suspicion directed at Central Asian migrants. Policies like the new rules in Novosibirsk are likely to exacerbate the decline in numbers of migrant workers, at least in that region. As for why fewer are returning, migrants may fear being unable to re-enter Russia if they return to Tajikistan or have others reasons–like affiliation with opposition or religious groups–to avoid coming back.