Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in an expanded meeting of the Board of the Federal Migration Service


“Russia must not be a country that anyone can enter whenever and however he likes.”

Vladimir Putin’s introductory remarks:

Good afternoon,

Mr Romodanovsky (head of the Federal Migration Service) has just told me about your capabilities. He described in detail the modern methods you are using in your work. They are interesting, useful and, I believe, quite effective. But your sphere of activity is beset with many problems. I suggest that we discuss specific issues and maybe even priority decisions that will help us improve the situation in this sphere that is very sensitive for many of our people. We must make more effective the operation of the FMS and other departments responsible for the conduct of state policy in this very sensitive sphere, as I’ve just said.

To be blunt, the problems and risks that have accumulated in this sphere are of concern to our society, and at times they are met with overt irritation. I have just told your chief what I know from my personal friends and acquaintances – people are trying to keep indoors during holidays in some big cities. This is very serious. We must pay attention to this and react accordingly. Let’s talk about this now.

People have well-justified grievances about the quality of law and law enforcement. To underscore the scope of this issue, I will quote your expert data, some of which was mentioned by your chief. According to the FMS there are about 9.2 million foreigners in Russia. About four million have registered as immigrants but still work illegally. Working is not the worst thing you could do; there are other ways of making money. There is no need to explain to you what opportunities this creates for abuse, corruption and violations of human rights and for organised and domestic crime, how much this is distorting our labour market, what a burden this is for our social and other infrastructure and how it contributes to ethnic and other conflicts and excesses.

To be clear, Russia is not going to close itself off from the outside world but we must by all means toughen our migration policy, including labour migration regulations. First and foremost, we will proceed from the interests of Russian citizens – this cannot be otherwise – from the interests of stability of Russian society and of the economy. Remember that during the crisis and against the backdrop of growing unemployment Russia reduced quotas for the use of foreign workers on its territory. I think we absolutely did the right thing and our CIS partners showed understanding towards these measures. Now the economy is on the upsurge and market capacity is growing. Regrettably, our economy cannot do without foreign workers. We have greatly simplified the procedures to obtain work permits for the foreign professionals our economy needs. I’m referring to engineers, technologists, researchers and managers. However, since July 2010  only 14,500 such permits have been issued, as you well know. This is just a drop in the ocean, but these are the people we need.

In general, we must transition to more clearly defined rules in the sphere of labour migration, making it more convenient and easier for law-abiding people. I think we must clarify migration registration, the issuance of work and residence permits and, whenever possible, do this electronically. You have already introduced some new forms – for instance, licenses. It is possible to obtain a license in a FMS territorial office. You have also endorsed a list of occupations. Drivers, domestic helpers and nannies are the most popular ones. A license costs a mere 1,000 roubles. More than a million licenses have been purchased so far. As a result, regional budgets have received an additional 3.8 billion roubles.

However, while creating civilised conditions for legal labour migration, we must resolutely resist crime and all kinds of shadowy business. The FMS must better and more closely cooperate with law enforcement and not just register a crime but promptly react to it. We have just discussed your personnel, its numbers and the division of responsibilities between different bodies. We will discuss this subject again with your chiefs. In a number of statements I have already expressed my demands for migration policy. I will try to specify them today.

First, we must refuse entry to Russia (for five to 10 years and maybe more) to those who have been caught on repeated flagrant violations of migration legislation or have been expelled from the country by a court decision.

Second, we must toughen penalties against those who encourage illegal immigration. Your chief has made several proposals concerning both companies and individuals – those who organise flows of illegal immigrants, hire people without any work permits and use them as slaves, and those who provide all kinds of hostels and flophouses for illegal guest workers. Currently most of these violations are punishable by symbolic fines. The migration service is virtually helpless – there is no point in holding you responsible for failing to use instruments that do not exist in our law. I think that these violations should involve criminal penalties. If need be, we must make amendments to Article 322 of the Criminal Code and other legal acts. 

I’d like to say a few words about the important issue of the quality of guest workers. We must give preferences to qualified foreign workers that are compatible with our culture and customs. This practice exists in all civilised countries and Russia must not be an exception. Russia must not be a country that anyone can enter whenever and however he likes.  

We must coordinate the work of the migration service, law enforcement (primarily the Ministry of the Interior and the FSB), the regions and, last but not the least, business in order to have a clear idea of how many people and with which skills are required in this or that region. We must primarily employ guest workers in those jobs for which it is difficult to find Russian citizens. It is very important to avoid the emergence of closed ethnic enclaves. International experience shows that this leads to a blind alley fraught with many risks and dangers both for the visitors and locals.

On the whole, the adaptation of guest workers is a separate and comprehensive issue. We must create the conditions for immigrants to normally integrate into our society, learn Russian and, of course, respect our culture and traditions and abide by Russian law. In this regard, I believe that the decision to make learning the Russian language compulsory and administer exams is well grounded. To do so, we will need to carry out major organisational work and introduce corresponding legislative amendments. I’d like to ask the Federal Migration Service and other departments to submit specific proposals to the government. These proposals should be openly discussed with ethnic minorities as well as public and religious organisations. This should be mandatory for all guest workers regardless of their future employment.

Of course, we need to work with the countries of origin of guest workers in order to develop the bilateral legal basis and requisite infrastructure. I’m also talking about creating so-called pre-migration preparation centres, which should provide professional training, Russian lessons, and instruction in basic laws, cultural customs and traditions of ethnic groups residing in Russia. Russian employers who are interested in attracting quality workers should be involved in the creation of such centres as well. 

Internal migration is another sensitive issue. Increasing numbers of Russian citizens are moving between Russian regions to pursue education or work, which is fine. The freedom of travel may not and should not be restricted. However, it should be governed by civilised rules as well. It’s important to avoid unnecessary risks and tensions, and to balance internal migration flows with the growth of the labour market as well as social facilities, utilities and other types of infrastructure. You and I are well aware that the infrastructure in Moscow or St Petersburg cannot handle large numbers of migrants. There are not enough transport routes, medical centres or hospitals. These considerations should always be kept in mind so as not to create problems for migrants or locals.   

I believe that we need to take a closer look at the existing registration system. Clearly, there are numerous disconnects and legal gaps. Take, for instance, the new phenomenon of “rubber apartments” where a cramped apartment becomes on paper the official residence for hundreds of people. This market for seedy services and the registration of false residences should be eliminated. All persons involved in such business, including property owners who abuse their property rights and officials who derive profits from such schemes, should be held liable for their actions. Unfortunately, this will have to be criminal liability.

Colleagues, I’d like to raise several more issues.

The first one has to do with relocating our compatriots from abroad. I met with the students in Tomsk yesterday. A Russian girl who came to Tomsk from Kazakhstan told me about all the little problems that are making it impossible for her to feel normal and comfortable in Russia. She has already become a Russian citizen, but she’s still facing problems settling in. We need to look into how we can make this work more effective and attractive. We should enlist the support of regional and municipal authorities, as well as interested businesses and prospective employers. I’d also like to ask you to develop corresponding proposals.

The second issue is about the Federal Migration Service transitioning to electronic services based on one-stop system. This is particularly important for mass services like issuing passports, including foreign ones. Judging from the number of complaints, not all problems have been resolved, so we need to further streamline this process.

The third issue involves the Common Economic Space of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Eurasian Union is our next goal. Such close integration calls for the introduction of uniform labour and migration laws, and ultimately a single visa and migration policy. We need to specify all the practical steps that will lead us there. You are experienced people and you are well aware that this is the first real attempt at integration in the post-Soviet space. This is a very significant step into the future. However, we need to adopt a proactive stance and, based on current realities, contemplate all the difficulties that we might encounter on the way.

Of course, visa-free travel to the European Union is our priority, and we should be absolutely ready for it. First and foremost, this involves orderly and secure migration procedures. I’m aware that you maintain an ongoing dialogue with our European partners. The more effective our migration policy is, the quicker we will be able to remove visa barriers between us and our European neighbours.

We are well aware of the physical and mental strain on employees of the Federal Migration Service. This is a difficult and stressful job. This kind of work needs to be performed by true professionals and skilled people. Therefore, we will certainly continue to improve social benefits for your employees.

* * *

Vladimir Putin’s closing remarks:

I’ll be leaving now – I don’t want to interfere with your work. But before I go I’d like to say the following about the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space, and possibly the future Eurasian Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. You know that we have the smallest number of problems in this sphere, primarily because we have learned to coordinate our joint efforts in key social and economic spheres. This will also minimise migration-related risks with Kazakhstan, not to mention Belarus, which has never really caused big problems.   

As for other post-Soviet countries, I am aware of the problems your service is facing, as well as some aspects of law enforcement, because we don’t have visas with most of these countries. We can deport people, but what next? They will board a plane or a train and come back here. Moreover, we pay for their deportation, so it’s an opportunity to visit their families for free. Do you see what I mean? I understand your difficulties, but we must address these problems anyway. I was not joking when I said that the residents of large cities prefer to stay at home during holidays. This is true! What will be the result of all of this? This is destabilising our society.

We have no visas with CIS countries for political reasons, because if we introduce them we will lose these countries for ever. This is not easy for us, not at all. Besides, our economy needs immigrants. So what is the solution? Is there a solution? I think so. But what is it? First, we must do what I have recommended, that is, work more closely with those countries from which immigrant workers come to Russia. Really, we should establish centres in those countries and approve common regulations – this is the first thing we should do. We cannot accomplish this task without your assistance: you should develop these proposals because you know the problem better than other specialists working in this sphere.

Second, we must adopt stricter laws regarding those who prosper from this state of affairs. I am referring to both private citizens and legal entities. I spoke about this in my address. We need stricter laws, possibly even laws envisaging criminal penalties. Why? Because we need to deal with violations of registration and domestic migration rules, as well as with violations of immigration procedures. Likewise, since we have no visas with CIS countries, we will have to approve criminal penalties for violators of deportation rules, those who return here after being deported. They will keep coming back unless they know that they will go to prison for breaking these rules. This will make them think twice.

I believe that this is sufficient reason for introducing stricter laws, for otherwise we will never restore order in this sphere. We need to do this not “to detain and imprison,” as in the old times, but to restore order. Of course, we should not burn the house to scare away the mice but act cautiously, for this is a very sensitive sphere. This is why I am asking you to consider the matter in the most professional manner possible. Your boss has told me that your service, although very young, has already accumulated considerable experience and has skilled and highly professional personnel who understand what they should do and how they should do it. This is why I expect you to submit relevant proposals.

Thank you very much. I wish you every success. Thank you.

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