Facing growing anti-migration sentiment, Europe’s largest state is rolling out a drastic new policy, protecting employees against drugs and other health issues.
A new law that comes into force this week will see virtually all foreigners living in Russia, even young children, required to take a battery of tests on a regular basis to avoid falling foul of the immigration authorities, in a move unprecedented virtually anywhere in the world.
Under the rules, which take effect from Wednesday, foreign nationals must submit a quarterly health certificate that proves they aren’t suffering from communicable diseases or taking drugs.
As part of the process, those living in the country who are not Russian or Belarusian citizens, and do not hold permanent or temporary residence permits, will have to attend a clinic every three months and pay for blood tests, sexual health checks, urine analysis, and even chest X-rays.
Foreigners will also have to submit fingerprints and identity photos for official records. Only children under the age of six are exempted.
Adding to the complexity, a number of examinations will also have to be undertaken at specialist government tuberculosis and addiction clinics.
For those in Moscow, the results will have to be handed in – in person – to the Sakharovo migration center, around two and a half hours on public transport from the heart of the capital. Those who refuse can see their visas revoked or not renewed.
The amendment introducing the restrictive new measures was backed by Russia’s parliament over the summer, but only fully explained publicly a few weeks ago.
A letter accompanying it said the changes were justified by the need to prevent the infiltration and spread of dangerous infectious diseases in Russia.
The country’s so-called ‘expat’ community has been vocal in its opposition to the law, with a number of business groups lining up to warn that it will destroy the country’s hopes at competing for highly skilled migrants.
An appeal from ten separate trade bodies, including the US Chamber of Commerce, has asked for the measures to be revisited, exempting specialist workers from the rules.
However, the lobby groups objecting to the rules have spared little concern for the bulk of Russia’s non-native workers, often from poorer Central Asian and Eastern European nations once part of the Soviet Union.
Instead of opposing the measures altogether, they have opted to ask that the majority of Westerners be exempted from it.
The world’s largest country estimates it had, before the Covid-19 pandemic, around 10.1 million foreigners permanently residing within its borders, according to 2019 estimates.
By far the largest groups consistently emigrating are Ukrainians, followed by Tajiks, Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Moldovans, and Kyrgyz. Many work in manual labor roles, on construction sites, farms, driving taxis, and in service jobs.
However, the high-profile outrage over the incidents is at odds with Russia’s economic dependence on foreign labor, and the sharp fall in the number of foreign workers in the country since the start of the pandemic.
In December last year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs estimated that almost half of all immigrants living in Russia had departed, with Moscow seeing a 40% drop in overseas workers.
Russia’s Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities Irek Fayzullin warned that 1.2 million extra employees were needed to fill labor shortages in the construction workforce, with building projects booming and a drastic shortfall in manpower.
In addition to builders and other manual laborers, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova has cautioned that an insufficient number of “high quality personnel” are choosing to move to Russia.
President Vladimir Putin has also defended the need for Russia to bring in migrants to fuel the economy, despite facing criticism from nationalists for not taking a harder line on the issue.
In March 2020, Putin approved guidelines to reform the visa and citizenship policies, warning that existing rules are not clear and bemoaning that levels of digitization remain low.
At the same time, however, the Russian leader has said that it is not enough to simply accept migrants, and that they should be assimilated into society as well.
The rule change, due to come into force in a matter of days, is unlikely to do much to help Russia attract either skilled or unskilled migrants in its current form.
At the same time, there has been little discussion of how it will affect those less able to pay for the examinations or take time off work, even if that work has rarely been in as high demand.
RT. com / ABC Flash Point News 2021.