Economics and Education have Replaced Ethnicity as Main Reasons for Outmigration from Russia, Study Says

April 30, 2015
Russian and Ukrainian emigres protesting the murder of Boros Nemtsov at the Russian Mission to the UN in New York City in March 2015. Photo by Reuters

Staunton, April 30 Between 1994 and 2003, ethnicity was the most important factor involved in decisions by residents of the Russian Federation to emigrate, according to Mikhail Denisenko of the Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics. But from 2004 to 2013, other factors, including economics and education, have been more important.

In a report delivered this month, Denisenko provides one of the most detailed descriptions of emigration and its causes available as well as a serious discussion of why it is often so difficult to determine the exact numbers and motivations of those involved in this process.

At the present time, he says, there are more than 2.7 million people who were born in the Russian Federation living in countries beyond the boundaries of the former USSR. But specifying the exact number is hard because many want to maintain their ties with Russia rather than seek integration elsewhere and because no two countries count in the same way.

Nonetheless, Denisenko says, some trends can be traced. During the first period, 1994-2003, more than 90 percent of emigres from the Russian Federation went to Germany, the US, and Israel. In the second period, 2004-2013, many fewer people from Russia went to these countries and more went to a broader variety of destinations.

Part of the reason for that, he suggests, is that ethnicity became less of a driving factor as those who wanted to join co-ethnics abroad had already done so. Another part is that the attitudes of receiving countries changed and their willingness and ability to register people. And still a third is that economic growth gave Russians more choices, even when they chose to leave.

A major complicating factor for anyone trying to track emigration is that some countries like the US define it in terms of the country of birth while others like Germany define it in terms of citizenship. Those can lead to very different sets of numbers as can whether the receiving country allows dual citizenship.

Germany does not, and Denisenko says that is one of the reasons why the figures the German government has for the number of Russians in Germany are vastly different than the number that the Russian consular service says are there. The US and Israel do allow dual citizenship, and there are now 118,000 Russian citizens in the former and almost 137,000 in the latter.

Denisenko says that many stories in the media seriously misstate how many Russian emigres there are in this or that country. One place where the Russian media routinely suggest that there are many Russians is Great Britain. In fact, there are only several tens of thousands there, and Russia is not in the list of the top 70 countries from which emigres there come.

An increasingly large share of emigres from Russia are students who want to go to university in Europe and the United States, Denisenko says, with the share of such people among all those moving from Russia in the US rising from 14 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 2013. That pattern is contributing to a reduction in the average age of emigres.

The emigration in many cases is dominated by women. In Italy, for example, more than 80 percent of Russian immigrants are women between the ages of 15 and 34. Some have come as a result of marriage, but others are involved in one or another profession, Denisenko says. At present, in most countries, Russian women outnumber Russian men.

And those leaving are increasingly highly educated. Almost three-quarters of Russian immigrants in Canada have higher educations. In Great Britain, the figure is “almost 70 percent.” And elsewhere it is increasingly high as well, as young Russians take advantage of educational and then career opportunities abroad.