The Kennan Institute

“Eurasia on the Move” - The Regional Implications of Mass Labor Migration From Central Asia to Russia

[These notes provide the background material for a PowerPoint presentation and are not a formal research paper. The statistical material and migration data referred to in the power point presentation were collected from a wide range of open sources and from interviews with officials and analysts in Central Asia in summer 2003 and spring 2004 as the attached footnotes indicate. They are for general reference/illustration purposes only and should be treated with caution. Photos used for the presentation come from online articles pertaining to migrants or from personal photographs.]


One issue that we have not paid much attention to in Russia over the last decade, but which may shape future domestic policy and foreign policy outcomes is migration––into Russia. Over the past ten years, Russia has become the migration magnet for the rest of Eurasia. Millions of economic migrants have flooded into Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities and regions in search of work and a better life.

These migrants are mostly from the South Caucasus and Central Asia, where language ties still predominate as well as familiarity with Russia and its job market––this is very much like the situation in Britain and France after World War II and in the 1960s, where migrants moved into these countries from their former colonies. And the phenomenon is also broadly similar to current economic migration to the U.S. from Latin America. Labor migrants to Russia from the neighboring countries retain ties with their homeland and move back and forth. They also settle in many instances in areas close to home—not just Moscow, but in the Urals and West Siberia, in the case of migrants from Central Asia; and in southern Russia, in the case of those from the Caucasus.