The declining population is causing ever more concern for Russia's government. Some 25 million ethnic Russians found themselves "abroad" when the USSR collapsed. The outflow from the Asian part of the country, which takes up 74.8% of its vast territory, has grown immensely, as local residents head for European Russia to seek better social and economic conditions. As a result, the density of the population on the eastern side of the Urals is as low as 2.4 per 1 sq.m.
Russia's population is plummeting "owing to the high death rate and a birth rate as low as 1.25 births per one woman," says Nikita Mkrtchian, an expert with the Economic Forecasting Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There is, in fact, zero probability that this downward spiral will ease up. "To maintain the population at the current level of 145 million, Russia needs to admit from 700,000 to 1,100,000 immigrants annually, and increase that inflow to between 900,000 and 1,700,000 by 2025," the scientist notes.
However, this migration influx will hardly be possible. Today it compensates for only 4.7% of the population losses. The most optimistic forecast of UN experts suggests only 138 million people will be living in Russia by 2025.
It is obvious that this country must make energetic efforts to attract immigrants in this demographic crisis, primarily our former compatriots living in the CIS and Baltic countries, including ethnic Russians. President Putin has mentioned it on several occasions.
He has also repeatedly pointed out that Russia's economy, too, is interested in attracting immigrants. Russia needs additional workers. In Moscow, for example, the majority of people employed in transportation, trade, construction and public utilities, are CIS citizens. Ukraine topped last year's list of countries supplying Russia with workers; it "exported" 91,000 people who accounted for 25.2% of the foreigners working in Russia. China rated second (41,000, or 11.4%, followed by Vietnam (27,000, or 7.5%) and Moldova (21,000, or 5.8%). Russia will need more and more workers for any further economic upswing.
In addition, Russia's population is growing older, which reduces the workforce. After 2010, the annual population decrement could reach 1 million people. Only immigration can help restore the balance of working and retired citizens.
The state regards the return of ethnic Russians to their historic homeland as a priority goal. However, according to Yevgeny Andreyev, a well-known demographer, "although this country has declared its willingness to accept Russian-speaking citizens of the CIS and Baltic countries, its law on citizenship impedes their entry". This is not good for a country which needs immigrants. It stipulates a five-year period of waiting to be granted citizenship, which is too long, according to experts. It could be adequate for Western nations, but not for Russia and the CIS residents who wish to move to this country.
Meanwhile, Russian officials think the law allows applicants to obtain Russian citizenship "calmly and assuredly". At least that is what the Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service says. The procedure involves three stages. First, one has to apply for a temporary residence permit. Once the migrant has it, he or she no longer needs a work permit, and can choose any job he or she could find. At the second stage one obtains a permanent residence permit, and at the third, Russian citizenship.
In late October, the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) approved presidential amendments to the law on citizenship, which liberalised the procedure for certain categories. Such "most favoured" guests include former USSR citizens registered in Russia as of July 1, 2002, World War II veterans, children and disabled individuals who have foreign or no citizenship at all.
Starting from January 1, 2004, foreigners serving under contract in the Russian army will also be entitled to a simpler scheme of obtaining Russian citizenship.
Still, despite the liberalisation of the citizenship law, Russia can hardly expect a flood of welcome guests. "The 1990s immigration won't repeat itself," says Mkrtchian. "It is decreasing because serious political or interethnic conflicts are no longer plaguing the former Soviet republics, while a number of the CIS countries concerned with the outflow of workforce, try to meet the interests of ethnic Russians in many ways, for example by giving a higher status to the Russian language. The economic situations are improving in those countries, new jobs are being created, and people who mostly think in economic terms, no longer hurry to Russia abandoning their property. Sometimes it is the other way around - Russians head for former Soviet republics to make some money." Russia's efforts to channel the flow of immigrants to Siberia and the Far East are not always successful. Local governments and migration services try to entice them to empty lands with promises of jobs and housing, but no tangible changes are as yet obvious. The government is adopting development programmes for these regions, but they will hardly ever compare with Moscow and the Central Federal District in terms of living standards and economic prospects, Mkrtchian says. "Today's migration is orientated towards the centre. Up to 70% of legal migrants head for the capital." It is obvious that as the Asian part of Russia is losing its residents, it is becoming rapidly populated by Chinese. RIA Novosti learnt at the Federal Migration Service that Chinese immigrants are now trying to establish economic control and gradually infiltrate the authorities there.
"We cannot forbid immigration from the Asia-Pacific Region, as it would increase ethnic tension," says Mkrtchian. "China is a dynamically developing nation, and Russia benefits from maintaining economic ties with it. We need to ensure that Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese feel at home, and enjoy a better living standards than at home. They must be given help to assimilate."
Olga Sobolevskaya, RIAN