Most migrant workers coming to Russia for the first time get employed below their qualification level, and their first job rarely does justice to their training and skills. Indeed, migrants' sophisticated education and high qualifications often remain unused in the Russian labour market, Varshavskaya and Denisenko found.
Their article 'The mobility of foreign workers in the Russian labour market' in the HSE's Demoscope Weekly, and their paper published in the RAS Institute of Sociology's Sociological Research Journal No. 4, 2014, use the findings of the project ‘Improving the mechanisms to attract and employ foreign workers in the Russian Federation' implemented by the HSE's Basic Research Programme.
Varshavskaya and Denisenko’s analysis is based on empirical data from a study commissioned by the HSE and conducted by the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies in late 2011, where almost 8,500 migrants were surveyed in eight major Russian regions. Most of the survey respondents (72%) came from Central Asia, of whom 41.4% were from Uzbekistan, 20% from Tajikistan, and 10.6% from Kyrgyzstan.
Three-quarters of the respondents (76.1%) are under 40; younger migrants under 30 account for 51.8% of all migrants from Central Asia, 40% of all migrants from the Caucasus, and 35.8% of all migrants from the European part of the CIS.
Their level of education is quite low: 26.2% have completed vocational school, and 16.5% have some university-level education or a degree. "The respondents from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan tend to have the lowest level of education," the study's authors note. "Of them, 63.3% have no education beyond secondary school, while one in eight migrants from Central Asia failed to finish school."
Those who came to Russia more recently tend to be less educated; while 21.3% of the migrants who arrived in Russia at the turn of the 21st century had a university degree, just 12% of the new migrants held university degrees in 2011. Of those who arrived in the early 2000s, 39.5% had only secondary schooling, while 31.4% had vocational training. In 2011, half of the new migrants (50.4%) had only secondary school education, and 24.1% had vocational training. The proportion of migrants with no education at all increased from 7.9% to 13.6% during the same period.
The authors studied migrants' occupation patterns and found two trends.
First, the proportion of those who had ever been employed before coming to Russia decreased from two-thirds of those who came in or before 2005 to 61% of those who arrived between 2006 and 2008 to just half of those who entered Russia between 2009 and 2011.
Second, more migrants now get employed by retail, construction, and utility companies.
The researchers found that before coming to Russia, most migrants from the CIS had worked in retail (18.1%), construction (15.9%), transport and communications (11.7%), and agriculture (10.7%). Their first jobs in Russia tend to be in retail (34.2%), construction (26.7%), and services, such as utilities and social services (12%).
While some 39% of the migrants had been employed in retail, construction, and services in their home countries, 73% found their first jobs in these sectors upon coming to Russia, increasing the number of migrants employed in retail by 1.9 times, in construction by 1.7 times, and in services by 2.5 times compared to their last employment back home.
Over the years, the distribution of migrants' occupations across industries also changed. The proportion of those who found their first Russian job in retail declined, while the share of those employed by a utility company upon arrival increased. Almost half (45.3%) of the respondents who came to Russia more than a decade ago – but less than a third (31.8%) of those who arrived in 2011 – found their first job in retail. In contrast, the proportion of those whose first job in Russia was with a utility company increased by 2.5 times from 7.2% of those who arrived ten years ago to 18.1% of those who came in 2011.
Most migrants had to change occupations once in Russia, just 31.2% found their first job in the same sector they had worked in back home. Understandably, migrants who had been employed in construction and retail – 66.4% and 57.6%, respectively – found jobs in the same sectors traditionally employing migrants in Russia. Similarly, 37.3% of those who had worked in the utilities sector and 36.6% of transport and communications workers continued working in the same sectors once in Russia.
In contrast, migrants who had worked in health care, education, and public administration were the least likely to find similar jobs in Russia; only 6.3% of migrant health professionals found employment in the Russian health sector, while the proportion of migrant teachers who continued working in education was almost negligible at 2.8%. Most of these professionals have switched to retail and utilities, leaving their specialist skills unused.
The number of professional migrants with vocational training and university degrees and migrants who used to be managers and office workers back home and continued working in similar positions in Russia has declined substantially over time, while the number of unskilled migrant workers has grown by 2.6 times. There is a striking contrast in the distribution of migrants' occupations and positions between their last job back home and first job in Russia; in terms of their employment back home, 20.9% were managers and professionals and 14.7% were unskilled workers, while in Russia, the former stand at 4% and the latter at 38.7 %.
The distribution of migrants' first jobs in Russia by occupation has also changed over the past 10-15 years. The proportion of those who started out in Russia as unskilled workers increased by 1.8 times from 28.5% of the migrants who arrived a decade and more ago to 52.7% of those who came to Russia in 2011, while the share of migrants working in services and retail dropped from 34.3% to 18.8%, and the share of managers and professionals from 8 to 3.1%.
These changes indicate a shift in demand towards unskilled jobs, while the Russian labour market tends to reject the knowledge and skills of migrants trained as managers and professionals.
It difficult to believe that 29.5% of the migrants who held managerial positions back home took unskilled jobs upon their arrival in Russia and 26.6% accepted low-ranking jobs in the services and retail sectors. The same is true of highly qualified migrant professionals, with 33.6% and 36%, respectively.
According to the researchers, just 13.3% of managers and 7.2% of highly qualified professionals are working in jobs of a similar status in Russia. Upon entry in the Russian labour market, more than 40% of the respondents ended up in inferior occupations and positions compared to their jobs back home – unless they found employment in the same sector they had worked in before. It is no accident that 78.6% of the migrants whose positions or occupations hardly changed upon coming to Russia were those employed in construction, retail, transport, and communications. By contrast, 24% of health professionals and teachers experienced major changes in status and occupation.
More than anything else, education makes a difference in whether a migrant retains or loses his or her former status: of those migrants whose status did not change much upon coming to Russia 49.3% had no education beyond secondary school and only 10.5% held university degrees.
However, there is a possibility for migrants to move up the career ladder: 27.1% of those who got their second and subsequent jobs in Russia switched to superior occupations or positions, although still not as good as they used to have back home. The researchers also note that migrants' hopes to find a well-paid job in Russia are often frustrated.