Неэргодическая экономика

Авторский аналитический Интернет-журнал

Изучение широкого спектра проблем экономики

International Labor Migration

The author analyzed the statistical data supplied by the regional labor offices in Russia and used the results to assess the current state of external labor migration in Russia, to identify the basic trends and problems in the field, to make objective predictions for further developments, and to formulate a number of fundamental approaches to the governmental regulation of the export and import of labor.

Beginning last year, the Ministry of Labor of Russia collects and analyzes information on foreign labor employed on the territory of the Russian Federation every six months [1]. Thus, not only the situation in the field is monitored, but also the dynamics of labor immigration can be analyzed. On July 1, 1994, in particular, the official data indicated that labor was imported to Russia from 53 foreign countries outside the former USSR. On January 1, 1994, the number of countries had decreased by a factor of 1.7. The number of foreign citizens engaged in the Russian economy is 130.5 thousands, including citizens of the states of the former USSR. This figure is higher than that for the preceding period by a factor of 1.6 and accounts for 0.18% of the entire labor force in Russia. Analysis of the geopolitical composition of immigrant labor in Russia demonstrates that the proportions of labor from foreign countries and countries of the former USSR are preserved with a slight bias in favor of the latter (see Table 1). The composition of the group of top five donor countries remains almost the same; it always includes China, North Korea, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Vietnam–Germany exchange of the positions in the table does not significantly affect the labor immigration pattern. The relative positions of the countries in the group of leading labor–donating countries changed considerably. For instance, North Korea and Bulgaria slipped from first and third positions to third and fourth positions, respectively, while, in contrast, China and Turkey went up from second and fifth positions to first and second, respectively. The concentration of labor immigrants generally tends to decrease gradually. For instance, the proportion of the top five countries in the total labor immigration to Russia decreased by 5%. The dominant position of China and Turkey must be noted, however, as these two countries account for more than 38% of total labor immigration.


Table 1. Composition of foreign labor in Russia by country of origin

Donor countries

Share of total foreign labor, %

Changes in 6 months

on January 1, 1994

on July 1, 1994

Foreign countries












North Korea















+ 13.59












+ 1.02








+ 1.60




+ 1.11




+ 1.33

Other countries




Countries of the former Soviet Union






The sectorial dynamics of the foreign labor are similar to the geopolitical structural changes (see Table 2). As should be expected, a small, though so far insignificant, increase has occurred in the share of the nonproduction and services sector indicating a beginning of the reduction of the former excessive concentration of foreign labor in the production sectors of the Russian economy. The ratios between the individual economic sectors changed in this period. Fewer immigrants are employed in forestry and agriculture. In six months, these sectors fell from first position in the table to third. This decrease took place during the active seasonal period indicating that the causes for it are objective rather than accidental. The construction industry, which increasingly employs foreign labor in many regions of Russia, moved to first position. Though the increase in the foreign labor share of the nonproduction sectors was noted to be insignificant, the sectorial spread of foreign labor increased significantly: on January 1, 1994, three sectors employed foreign labor and in six months, the number increased to eight. We are witnessing gradual diversification of the employment of foreign labor.


Table 2. Sectorial composition of foreign labor

Sectors of the economy

Share of total foreign labor, %

Changes in 6 months

on January 1, 1994

on July 1, 1994

Material production sectors including:




Manufacturing and related industries




Forestry and agriculture




Construction industry




Transportation and communications industries




Trading and catering




Other sectors




Nonproduction sectors and services including:




Housing and utilities




Health and welfare services








Banking and insurance




Sciences and related services




Arts and culture














The same conclusions are suggested by the decreasing concentration of immigrant labor in the major sectors of the Russian economy. For instance, the share of foreign employees in the manufacturing industries, construction industry, forestry, and agriculture decreased from 97.04% to 92.91% in six months (see Table 2).

The diversity of the foreign labor force in skills deteriorated in the period under consideration. The share of low–paid manual workers employed in difficult and undesirable work increased markedly, while the share of more skilled groups decreased. The smallest decrease was in the share of management personnel and the greatest decrease was in the group of rare skills and highly–skilled experts (see Table 3). The implication is that Russia aims to attract “basic” labor and, in doing so, intentionally ignores opportunities for the migration of innovations between countries that occur via labor migration. In addition, this is an indication of the lack of any sign of an approaching resolution of the economic crisis, because otherwise there would be an enhanced demand for skilled foreign labor.


Table 3. Classification of foreign labor by skill and profession

Professional and skill groups

Share of total foreign labor, %

Changes in 6 months

on January 1, 1994

on July 1, 1994

Low–skilled, undesirable, and heavy jobs




Skilled workers in rapidly growing and high–priority sectors




Rare skills




Management personnel




Highly skilled experts and professionals





The statistical data indicate that hiring of foreign labor under international agreements is becoming increasingly rare (see Table 4). On the one hand, this is an indication of some democratization of the labor relations but, on the other hand, subtler economic mechanisms have to be developed by the government in order to regulate the labor migration processes.


Table 4. Composition of foreign labor according to conditions of employment

Employment under specific conditions

Share of total foreign labor, %

Changes in 6 months

on January 1, 1994

on July 1, 1994

Under an international agreement




Direct recruitment



+ 14.4


The striking lack of balance registered earlier in the gender composition of foreign labor decreased considerably (see Table 5), though the number of men among foreign workers is still 5 times greater than the number of women. In some regions of Russia, all or almost all foreign workers are men. for example, in the Amurskaya oblast’, 99% of foreign workers are men, in the Irkutskaya oblast’ the respective figure is 99.4%, and in the Altaiskii krai, it is 100%.


Table 5. Composition of foreign labor by gender


Share of total foreign labor, %

Changes in 6 months

on January 1, 1994

on July 1, 1994








+ 16.0



The distribution of foreign labor over the territory of Russia is uneven, naturally reflecting the levels of economic activity in the regions. The respective indicator varies from 0 to 14.2%. The share of foreign workers in the total workforce also varies significantly over the regions. While the average figure for Russia is 0.18%, for the Khanty–Mansi autonomous okrug, the proportion of foreign workers is as high as 2.6%. The data presented in Table 6 demonstrate that the regional concentration of foreign labor can be fairly high, especially, in the border areas of the Asian Pacific regions. A good illustration is given by the fact that the Republic of Buryatia, Altaiskii krai, Amurskaya oblast’, Irkutskaya oblast’, Sakhalinskaya oblast’, Chitinskaya oblast’, Primorskii krai, and Khabarovskii krai account for about 20% of the total foreign labor in Russia, while the total workforce in these regions is less than 9% of the total for Russia.


Table 6. Distribution of foreign labor over the Russian regions


Share of total foreign labor, %

Changes in 6 months

on January 1, 1994

On July 1, 1994

Khanty–Mansi autonomous okrug




Khabarovskii krai




Voronezhskaya oblast’




Chitinskaya oblast’




Amurskaya oblast’




St. Petersburg




Republic of Komi




Permskaya oblast’




Primorskii krai




Republic of Buryatia




Belgorodskaya oblast’




Tambovskaya oblast’




Republic of Bashkortostan




Other regions






In the six–month period under consideration, the greatest changes occurred in the gender composition of foreign labor and the respective integrated indicator of the rate of structural changes is as high as 408.2% (details see in [2]). The rate of changes in the regional distribution of foreign labor was almost as high, with the respective indicator of 330.2%. The changes in the distribution of foreign labor according to the geopolitical parameters and economic sectors were practically identical, as described by indicators of 108.3% and 105.9%, respectively. Much smaller changes occurred in the distribution of foreign labor over skills and international hiring practices, as can be seen from the respective indicators of 41.2% and 28.8%.

The difficulties and problems that are associated with hiring and employment of foreign labor remain essentially the same. The proportion of foreign workers at some enterprises is still excessive. The practice of hiring foreign labor continues to drain the material resources of Russia, because in almost all Asian Pacific regions, barter or partial barter arrangements are made in compensation for foreign labor. The commodities involved in the barter operations include Kamaz trucks, structural steel, sugar, grain, sea products, and so on. The compensation paid for each Chinese worker employed in the Khanty–Mansi autonomous okrug is at least between one and two thousand tons of metal articles in accordance with the specifications presented by the Chinese. It should be specially noted that illegal labor immigration is gradually becoming a regular phenomenon. Sakhalinskaya oblast’, where only 29% of foreign workers have work permits, is a typical illustration. The rapid growth of the crime rate in the Khabarovskii krai is caused by the influx of foreign labor, while the authorities of the Chitinskaya oblast’ are alarmed by the deterioration of hygiene and the epidemiological conditions caused by the same factors.

In addition to the persistent problems provoked by foreign labor, new difficulties spring to life under the conditions of the market economy. In particular, timing becomes of crucial importance. For instance, in 1994, one of the power units of the Primorskaya thermal power station was decommissioned and experts from China had to be urgently brought to repair it. The delays in obtaining the appropriate permits, however, meant that the repairs lasted for an unacceptably long time. Similar administrative “mishaps” are typical also for agriculture and the construction industry, causing the violation of agreed project completion terms and the breaking of contracts. As many of the Russian regions are far from Moscow, the excessive centralization of licensing of foreign labor may result in even graver problems.

Special problems are encountered in science, where a partnership with a foreign agency may consist in a foreign expert regularly submitting his research results and relevant data to the Russian partner. Such a labor contract, obviously, cannot be subjected to the same general regulations as the direct hiring of foreign labor.

What is the situation with regard to labor emigration? In the period between January 1,1994, and July 1,1994, the number of Russian citizens who left Russia to take jobs abroad was 2.3 thousands, that is, it was greater by a factor of 2.6 than the respective figure for the preceding six–month period and amounted to 0.003% of the total labor force in Russia. Though the scale of labor emigration is still insignificant, there are signs of its expansion. The primary sign is the rapid growth in the number of the employment agencies recruiting Russian workers for jobs abroad. For example, five labor recruitment agencies for work abroad were set up within six months in Primorskii krai. The number of such agencies in Krasnodarskii krai also increased. Localized areas of high labor emigration rate can be identified. Russian migrant workers seem to exhibit a definite preference for warm countries. For instance, Krasnodarskii krai accounts for 61.1% of all Russian citizens leaving Russia for jobs abroad; 73.2% of them went to the Bahamas and the rest went to Australia, Greece, Liberia, Panama, Cyprus, and Malta. Most of them are auto mechanics, drivers, waiters, cooks, teachers, and experts on laser medicine.

Though the authorities in many Russian regions allow employment of foreign citizens, practically no foreign labor migration takes place to them. The labor migration is not balanced and the situation in some Russian border regions becomes quite unfavorable. The effective labor exchange processes are hindered by the lack of data on the availability of the services of foreign labor agencies and on the conditions in the international labor market. Regular publication of a special foreign labor newsletter would be highly useful in this respect, but nothing has been done about it though such suggestions have been repeatedly made. Many legal and administrative issues in this field still remain unresolved. In particular, the legal status of Russian citizens working abroad has not still been defined. This causes difficulties in the determination of the social security status of such workers in Russia and their rights to the old– age social security pension administered by the state in Russia. There are no clear–cut legal principles for signing labor contracts with persons of dual citizenship.

It should be noted also that recently, more foreign countries began trying to attract Russian blue– and white–collar workers. For instance, the President of Guyana, Cheddy Jagan, recently approached the Russian Embassy with a request to send skilled personnel to his country. Guyana needs, first of all, skilled technicians for implementing projects financed by the World Bank and other international institutions. Secondly, Guyana needs secondary school teachers and instructors for technical colleges and universities (there are four thousand teacher vacancies in Guyana and its government suggests that it can hire Russian teachers, postgraduate students, and undergraduates even for short periods during their vacations and leaves and pay their return fares). Thirdly, Guyana needs skilled personnel for government ministries and other government agencies. It is estimated that fourteen Guyana government agencies have 617 vacancies for book–keepers, auditors, inspectors, archive workers, surgeons, pharmacologists, pharmacists, X–ray technicians, and anthropologists.

Brasil is prepared to take on Russian scientists in the capacity of lecturers at the State University of Tocantins, and also seasonal agricultural workers. Similar proposals have been made by representatives of other countries.

We see, thus, a definite scope for expansion of labor migration from Russia. If the developing countries absorb a significant proportion of the Russian labor migrants, the share of skilled workers in the Russian labor force abroad will remain at a fairly high level.

Let us now attempt a detailed analysis of the above data on Russian labor migration to foreign countries. We shall make a preliminary general forecast of the coming events that will make it possible to estimate the actual rate and intensity of the ongoing processes.

The forecast will be based on a straightforward extrapolation of the observed trends. The following equations will be used for the calculations:








here, E is the number of imported (exported) workers, t is the forecast period (a year), and r is the last period under review (a year). Equation (1) is written under the assumption that the labor migration growth rate is constant and, therefore, implies the “pessimistic” scenario of the forecast; in equation (2), a constant migration increment is assumed and it describes the “optimistic” scenario. Because the exponential dependence (1) systematically overestimates results, while the linear function (1) underestimates results, the final estimate must balance the extremes, and we calculate it as the geometric mean of the results given by (1) and (2).

If the current trends are preserved, the estimates show that by the year 2000, the Russian economy will employ about 4.7 million foreign workers, accounting for approximately 6.7% of the total Russian workforce. This figure is a little higher than the respective figure for Austria and somewhat smaller than that for France in 1990 [3]. The Swiss rate of 15% foreign workers will be reached in no fewer than 20 years. We see that, in the immediate future, we hardly have to be wary of an excessive influx of foreign labor. In fact, we may expect lower real figures, because even now, Russia is tending to tighten immigration legislation and foreign labor import is determined primarily by the relevant governmental regulatory measures.

As for the export of Russian labor, the forecast is, on the whole, favorable. Estimates show that, by the year 2000, only 0.9 million workers will leave Russia to take jobs abroad, that is, only 1.3% of the total workforce. It will take about 100 years for 10% of the workforce to leave the country (a critical “threat” threshold). It can be seen that no serious loss of workforce threatens Russia. The loss of skilled workers, including the “brain drain” processes, will not, apparently, be catastrophic in character. In fact, the scale of labor migration is so small that strong measures must be taken to stimulate it to reach a “natural” level (between 3 and 4%).

Unfortunately, we must state that significant drawbacks exist in the mechanisms of the governmental regulation of foreign labor migration. No integrated legislation has been promulgated in the field, while the existing regulatory measures are random and sporadic in character. No stable infrastructure has been established for organizing foreign labor migration, the responsibilities of the relevant governmental agencies are not defined and are often duplicated, while no procedures for liaison between them have been worked out. No well–defined governmental policies exist, either for foreign labor or for Russian workers employed in foreign countries.

No heed is taken of the suggestion to separate the issues concerning general population migration, including problems of refugees and internal resettlement and foreign labor migration, though it is clear that government agencies must take essentially different regulatory measures on them. The export and import of labor also mast be subject to entirely separate regulatory actions by the government. At the same time, the problems of internal and external labor migration must be dealt with within the framework of a unified approach, which also has not been developed.

In the context of the above discussion, let us attempt to work out a general strategy and define the priorities of the governmental regulatory policies. Regulatory measures of two types will be involved in the case of foreign labor migration. Measures of the first type include institutional and organizational transformations in the infrastructure of foreign labor migration and in the funding arrangements made for labor migration projects. These measures include setting up new specialized governmental agencies or departments, expanding the staff of the existing agencies, opening official Russian representative offices for migrant workers in foreign countries, setting up labor migration foundations, specialized data banks, and so on. These measures will be costly, because they will be financed by direct appropriations from the federal and regional budgets and they will require significant organizational efforts. In view of the current Russian budget deficit and the enormous foreign debts of Russia, these measures are unlikely to be implemented in the near future.

Measures of the second type are aimed at the development of government regulations and legislation concerning foreign labor migration; they imply the passing of new relevant laws, presidential decrees, governmental enactments, ministerial rulings, and so on, and the signing of international treaties and agreements in the field. These measures are not expensive and do not require much time. This is why in die next two or three years, special attention must be paid to taking such regulatory measures with the aim of developing an efficient legislative base for controlling and monitoring foreign labor migration. Measures of the first type can be gradually enacted on the basis of this.

Legislative and regulatory measures involve international cooperation activities (signing of international treaties, ratification of international conventions, and so on) and development of the national legislation on population migration. Both the Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation and the Federal Migration Service are actively engaged in the development of foreign cooperation issues. The international agreements, however, cannot cover all countries of the world; moreover, their objectives involve exclusively the protection of rights of Russian citizens abroad and of foreign citizens in Russia. It is only internal migration legislation that can protect the home labor market from excessive foreign labor migration and guarantee the rights of Russian migrant workers returning home from abroad. This legislation is poorly developed at present and must be improved. In our opinion, this legislation must comprise two components: a basic component of a permanent nature and a flexible component. The first component must include permanent migration regulations, on which the national migration legislation must be based. Individual elements of the internal migration legislation may be changed but not more than once every ten years or so. The flexible component of the legislation is a system of temporary regulations that take into account the current social and economic conditions, the political situation, and the actual state of affairs in the Russian and international labor markets. The temporary regulations, rules, and enactments comprising this component are issued by the government and relevant government agencies and are applicable for not more than a year. Under the currently effective legislation, the significant lacunae in the permanent legislative component give rise to serious difficulties. As for the flexible legislative component, it does not exist at all.

The above discussion suggests that all the elements of the permanent and flexible legislative components must be urgently developed and enacted. The general policy principles must be declared in the Employment Law. The principal elements of the maneuverable legislative component may be declared in the Law on Regulation of Labor Import and Export, which will be the main legislative act governing the foreign labor migration. Some specialized but fundamental statutes should be included in the Labor Code of the Russian Federation. Some fundamental legislative enactments may be promulgated as presidential decrees and government rulings. The routine regulatory functions are carried out by the appropriate government agencies responsible for implementing state policies, which issue relevant statutes, rulings, and guidelines.

The following steps must be taken for rearranging the foreign labor migration infrastructure. First of all, an appropriate governmental agency must be given responsibility for coordinating the activities concerning labor migration at home and abroad. It would be natural to give this responsibility to the Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation, because it exercises overall supervision of all issues that arise from labor relations. This ministry must formulate government policy concerning foreign labor migration and prepare national legislative acts in response to the challenges of the present–day situation. The ministry must be given overall charge of law–making initiatives, supervision of adherence to the approved general policies, and the relevant practical activities. Only such a concentration of responsibilities can provide for efficient control and feedback in the system regulating the export and import of labor. It would be reasonable for the ministry to carry out monitoring and analyzing of the conditions in the Russian labor market. All the above operations and responsibilities may be assigned to a special department to be set up at the Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation.

In view of the continuing changes in foreign labor migration patterns, it would be useful to implement the concept of the “temporary coordinator,” which is employed, for instance, in France. The approach implies that the role of the supervising and coordinating center is given to different governmental agencies depending on the prevailing circumstances. For instance, the Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation must act as the principal regulatory agency in the transition period when the prevention of massive unemployment is the major problem facing the government. In the later period, when issues of labor export and the numerous related humanitarian, social, and cultural problems will become paramount, the Foreign Ministry of Russia must be given the coordination responsibilities in the field.

As the problems of the foreign labor migration are comprehensive in character, it would be useful to set up a joint working group of experts from the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation. Experts from other agencies, including international bodies, could also be consulted when necessary.

The fundamental and contingent regulatory principles for foreign labor migration must, in our opinion, be incorporated in a unified Law on Regulation of the Import and Export of Labor, which would provide for the protection of the social, economic, and political interests of Russia and for a speedy and efficient resolution of labor migration problems. The specific quantitative norms and standards must be worked out from international and Russian guidelines and the estimates given by experts. The law must cover all issues connected in some way with the processes of foreign labor migration. An alternative approach, under which a number of statutes would be enacted in order to regulate specific aspects of the migration processes, would make the relevant legislation too cumbersome.

Separate sections of the above suggested law must deal with the export and import of labor owing to the essential differences between the two in terms of the relevant general functions and the legislative aspects.

The introductory section of the law must specify the status and visa requirements for individual groups of immigrant workers, including the duration of their employment in Russia, the options for extending the visa terms, and any additional privileges or restrictions. The law must provide for sanctions to be imposed for violations of it, including administrative and criminal liabilities of the persons and entities involved. Infractions of the migration legislation must be punishable with high fines and long–term imprisonment. Special attention must be paid to providing for continuing immigration control of all legal entities operating on the territory of Russia.

The local authorities in Russia may also develop and promulgate additional migration statutes depending on the conditions prevailing in the respective region. The general requirement is that the local authorities can enhance the restrictions on the foreign labor import stipulated by the law but not downgrade them.

An important instrument of ongoing regulation of foreign labor migration must be the directory of the guidelines prepared by the Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation for specific regions and skills that are entitled as follows: “Russian regions possessing the primary privilege to hire foreign labor”; “Foreign regions possessing the primary privilege to hire Russian labor”; “Jobs open (forbidden) to foreign citizens”; “High–priority job recruitment”; “Labor shortage jobs”; and “Russian regions possessing the primary privilege to export labor”. The Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation must be given the primary responsibility for formulating these guidelines and for monitoring and analyzing the conditions in the Russian labor market in cooperation with the regional governmental employment agencies.




1. Balatskii, E.V., External Labor Migration, Herald of the RAS, 1994, no. 5.

2. Balatskii, E.V. and Laverent’ eva, О.V., Procedural Issues in the Analysis of the Structural Shifts in Economics and Employment, Zanyatost' i Ekonomicheskaya Reforma (Employment and Economic Reform) Moscow: NIEI, 1992.

3. Krasinets, E. and Barinova, N., Migration Processes in Russia, The Economist, 1994, no. 5.




Official link to the article:


Balatskii E.V. International Labor Migration// «Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences». 1995. Vol.65, no.1, pp. 11–16.

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