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Regular version of the site

Myths keeping Muscovites and migrants from finding common ground

Relations between Muscovites and migrant workers from the CIS are plagued by myths circulating in the mass consciousness. In her research, Yulia Florinskaya, a Senior Researcher with HSE’s Institute of Demography, refutes prevalent statements that migrants not only take jobs from Muscovites, but also seriously increase the burden on healthcare and intentionally maintain illegal status.

In reality, relations between migrant workers and Muscovites are reminiscent of symbiosis, as both groups coexist and are mutually beneficial. The urban economy needs to be filled with ‘less prestigious’ labour niches (cleaning, construction, transportation, etc. See Migrants Need Help Integrating), while migrants need to make a living. At the same time, myths circulated by the masses are keeping ‘aboriginals’ and ‘newcomers’ from understanding one another.

Yulia Florinskaya, a Senior Researcher with HSE’s Institute of Demography and Chief Researcher with the Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, discussed these issues in her paper ‘Migrants in Moscow – Myths and Reality. Competition on the Labour Market? Burden on Healthcare? Conscious Choice of Illegal Status?’ Florinskaya analysed whether migrants really were taking jobs Muscovites might otherwise be interested, as well as whether migrants significantly increase healthcare expenses in the Moscow budget and intentionally decide against gaining legal status.

The report summarizes the results of the 2013 project ‘Defending Muscovites' Rights in the Context of Mass Migration.’ The project involved a survey of 800 people – 600 Muscovites and 200 international labour migrants – as well as expert interviews and focus groups with Moscow employers who hire migrants.

Unclaimed Vacancies

At the time of the survey, unemployment in the capital was very low at just 1.3% of Moscow’s economically active population, while there was an impressively high number of job vacancies – 175,000 as of summer 2013, according to the electronic database used by the Moscow Employment Service. Even so, residents of Moscow believe that migrants are serious competitors on the job market. Some 40% of Muscovites states that migrants ‘hold jobs that our population needs.’ With this, however, only 7% of people had encountered a situation in which an employer had chosen to hire a migrant over a Muscovite. This concerned all migrants, both from the regions and from abroad. These are oftentimes people with a secondary special education or lower, people who are eligible for unskilled jobs, the researchers note: cleaners, couriers, freight handlers, or street sweepers.

On the other hand, these kinds of vacancies were in good supply on the all-Russian database for Moscow job vacancies. As of autumn 2013, there were upwards of 8,000 vacancies for cleaners, over 5,600 for freight handlers, and around 4,000 for street sweepers. In other words, the problem is that Muscovites are not always well informed about these kinds of vacancies and they are not prepared to accept the pay level the jobs offer, Florinskaya comments.

Employers Satisfied with Migrants’ Low Demands

A fairly significant percentage of Muscovites surveyed, up to 26%, said they were ready to work as janitors, plumbers, drivers, caregivers, etc. The level of education this group of respondents had, however, made the researcher ‘doubt the reality of their intentions.’ The majority of ‘potential street sweepers’ had a vocational education (secondary specialist education and higher). Of this, 27% were specialists, 29% qualified workers, 5% division chiefs, 4% entrepreneurs, and 1% were even top executives.

In other words, the ‘Muscovites versus migrants’ competition is hardly possibly here. And the employers that were surveyed agree – foreigners have low demands. ‘I don’t think there’s any competition in Russia. We protect the Russian worker, if he is a Russian worker, for an amount of money and for a certain qualification…’ Employers also said that migrants were ready to work more and have lower requirements as far as working conditions are concerned.

Overall, this does not concern competition so much as it does ‘wage dumping’ due to the fact that migrants are available and the employee’s workload is growing, Florinskaya notes. This is also confirmed by the survey on Muscovites, as a third of them accuse migrants of lowering wage levels by agreeing to the lowest pay.

Households Need Migrant Labour

At the same time, it is low cost in particular that allows Muscovites to take advantage of migrant labour. A third of the Muscovites surveyed said they had hired a migrant worker to work at their home or business within the last three years, the researcher adds. The migrants themselves confirmed this: 30% of them stated that they had worked for private individuals. Muscovites often hire migrants for construction and repair projects at their apartments or dachas.

Using migrant labour is the prerogative of more educated and well-off Muscovites. Among those of an above-average and average financial position, some 41% and 35%, respectively, had used migrant labour. The poor and less educated use migrant labour less frequently, but they are more likely to see the negative side of migration, as they are competing with migrants for the same jobs.

Maternity Tourism Exaggerated, Still Many Abandoned Children

According to the Moscow Health Department, 2012 data show that 1.8 billion rubles were spent to treat individuals not insured under Russia’s Mandatory Medical Insurance system. This includes immigrants. (See Table 1.) This is a significant amount of money, but it is covered by revenues to the Moscow budget from the sale of patents to migrants working for individuals (up to 1.7 billion rubles in 2012-2013, while revenues from patent sales were up even more in 2014, as the number of migrants who purchased patents doubled). It is also important to consider budgetary revenues from fines for immigration law violations.

Table 1. Actual Spending on Medical Treatment for Citizens without Mandatory Medical Insurance at the Moscow Health Department’s Medical Establishments from the 2012 City Budget

Medical Organisation

Number of Patients Treated

Overall Amount Spent (‘000 rubles)

Inpatient Hospitals



Obstetrics Hospitals



Source: Moscow Department of Health

A hot topic for Muscovites is migrant childbirth, however. ‘There is no increasing flow of maternity tourism. In the three-year period, the percentage of migrant births was unchanged at 7% of all the births that occurred in Moscow,’ Florinskaya notes.

A more serious issue is the number of children left at maternity clinics, the expert comments. The percentage of children abandoned by foreign parents fluctuated between 28% and 35% in 2011-2013, which is actually rather high. In 2011, there were 95 children abandoned by CIS immigrants, 85 in 2012, and 47 in the first six months of 2013. These numbers would be even higher if not only maternity clinics were factored in, but all medical facilities as a whole. Immigrants from Kyrgyzstan abandoned new-borns most (around 40%), while Tajiks were second (up to 20%) and Moldovans and Ukrainians third (up to 15%).

Muscovites Avoid Registering Migrants

Migrants cannot officially register in Russia without a Russian citizen as a host. What is more, Russians usually refuse to do this. Over 40% of surveyed migrants without a Moscow registration said that they were unable to register since their employer or landlord did not want to do this. In other words, the fact that there are migrants residing in the Russian capital illegally ‘is largely the result of Muscovites’ unwillingness to advertise that they have ‘landlord-tenant’ relations with migrants,’ Florinskaya concludes.

According to the survey, only 5% of Muscovites have ever rented to migrants. This figure is slightly higher at 7% for those who consider themselves poor; after all, renting brings in additional income. Further, only 13% of all Russians who rented out apartments registered the migrants, and among those with foreign nannies, caregivers, or housekeepers, absolutely no one registered the migrants.

Problems Renting

Moscow residents who use migrant labour – both foreign and Russian migrants – are reluctant to sign work contracts with them. (See Table 2.) Among the Muscovites surveyed, only 8% signed official written agreements with workers, while another 9% signed contracts with a company that sends migrant workers. The remaining 83% preferred to have verbal agreements with migrants.

Table 2. How Did You Last Finalise Labour Relations with Migrant Workers? (%)



Had official contract with company and foreman who sent migrants


Had official written contract with migrant


Had only verbal agreement with migrant




N=207 (total number of employers who have hired migrants within the last three years)

Source: Yulia Florinskaya

More common are official work agreements with foreigners who work at companies. Some 65% of such migrants had a written contract with their employers (the legal entity), but only 26% of those who worked for a legal entity received an official salary.

As Florinskaya has shown, there are many aspects to the problems that exist between Muscovites and migrants: ‘dumping’ on the labour market, additional spending from the Moscow budget on healthcar
Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, June 08, 2015