Not Only Labor Migrants Are Fleeing Russia, Westerners Are Too

February 4, 2015
Utility workers in Kurgan, Russia | Alexander Alpatkin / ITAR-TASS

Staunton, February 4 — The exodus from Russia of Central Asian labor migrants and even the recent decline in the number of Ukrainians who fled to Russia last year after the start of the conflict there have attracted a great deal of attention, but outflow, this of people from Western countries, has attracted much less even though it may prove more important.

According to an investigation by RBC journalists Stepan Opalyev and Elena Myazina, this exodus has been partially obscured by the inflow of Ukrainians. But beginning from January of last year, “at a minimum, half a million citizens of European countries (excluding the former USSR states but including the Baltics), North America, Australia and New Zealand left Russia.”

Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) notes that the number of such people in Russia in January 2014 was 1.73 million but only 1.23 million in January 2015 and reports that three quarters of that half million did so in the second half of last year after hostilities in Ukraine began.

Germans, Americans and British subjects formed the largest number of those departing, with 98,000, 79,000, and 69,000 exiting respectively. In percentage terms, the largest departures were the Norwegians, 48 percent of whom left, the Swedes, 47 percent of whom left, the Spanish, 41 percent, the Finns, 39 percent, and the Danes, 38 percent.

The two journalists note that Latvian non-citizens, most of whom are Russian speakers, came to Russia in large numbers in the first half of 2014 boosting their number by 782 but then left in the second half by only slightly fewer, 560, leaving that group in Russia up by 222 for the year as a whole.

Artur Shamilov, head of the Top Contact company, said that the departure of these people is having an impact on Russian companies, but he told the RBC journalists that their departure had been triggered not only by the geopolitical crisis but also by “the increasing qualifications of Russian managers who are gradually replacing the foreign specialists,” a trend since 2008.

But Konstantin Kalachev, a Moscow political analyst, told the journalists that people from developed countries have ceased to view Russia as a country with prospects even though they, because most are paid in dollars or euros, have actually benefitted from the ruble’s devaluation.

He said that what is happening is that Western firms are winding down their operations in Russia because of sanctions and the new East-West tensions, developments that he says “foreigners feel more than Russians.” He notes that some in the top elite are even pleased with the departure of such people because that opens the way for Russian managers.