President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear colleagues.
Today we are to examine the issue of immigration policy. An effectively implemented immigration policy is of critical importance for our country. This is why the Security Council is examining this subject. I just want to remind you that the last time we analysed this matter was in October 2001.
Since that time, a whole series of concrete measures, both legislative and administrative, have been taken in this area. Immigration issues play a considerable part in decision making at both federal and regional level.
But at the same time, immigration is something that is changing all the time. Many countries take this into account and Russia is no exception in this respect, all the more so as our social and economic possibilities have increased over recent years.
Keeping this in mind, we need to act rapidly to adjust our immigration policy strategy and turn the problems of the past into an advantage for the future. We can do this.
In order to achieve this, we first need to make improvements to the state immigration policy and we also need to tie it in more closely with our country’s real social and economic development needs.
It is clear that immigration issues require constant and vigilant attention. This is partly because Russia has international obligations it must abide by, but even more, it is because we must take urgent steps to resolve the country’s economic and demographic problems.
We all know that Russia’s working population is on the decline and that it will not be long before this begins to have a negative effect on our economic growth and on our ability to fulfil various social commitments.
We should also keep in mind something else. According to the Federal Migration Service, immigration flows are decreasing with every passing year. It is a fact today that immigration no longer has a positive effect on the demographic situation in the country. It no longer compensates for the natural population decline, as was the case in the mid-1990s. Our task today, therefore, is to create additional conditions for attracting to Russia people who can make a positive contribution to our country’s development. This does not mean, of course, that we should ignore other tasks such as encouraging the birth rate, increasing life expectancy and so on. But immigration is a crucially important factor and I think that you will agree with me that we have so far not used it effectively.
Many countries have successfully resolved similar problems and continue to do so. Their success has been thanks to a competent immigration policy. They put in place targeted policies to encourage people with capital, knowledge and good qualifications into their economic, scientific and cultural spheres.
Indeed, our specialists are also among those who leave for countries with an effective immigration policy. We are well aware of this. Specialists estimate that more than 100,000 scientists working in what have been traditionally strong sectors in Russia such as mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology left the country between 1989 and 2001. Most of these people were mature people aged 35–45.
We must continue to work on ensuring good living and working conditions for our specialists in their native country, but at the same time we should also take steps to ensure that foreign specialists and qualified workers find suitable living conditions here in Russia. Our primary task today is to encourage immigration. I stress that we are talking about encouraging immigration and not just compensating for our population decline.
Of course, what we are talking about is legal and, especially important, regulated immigration. Specialists estimate that there are some four million illegal immigrants currently in Russia. But we should also remember that these illegal immigrants are not a homogenous group. Certainly, there are definite criminals within this group, but there are also people who have been forced, and in many ways through our fault, to go underground.
The main reason for this are the notorious administrative barriers that create an insurmountable obstacle for people who would like to legally establish their presence in Russia or their right to work here. Immigrants are especially hard hit by many of our chronic bureaucratic ailments. That’s not to mention the absence of any comprehensive social protection system for them. This is also an important factor because by simply ignoring these millions of people who are living in our country, we are pushing them into a criminal environment.
Some Russian entrepreneurs are interested, of course, in having a cheap labour force. Indeed, some specialists even say that this is one of Russia’s economic advantages. But at the same time, this disorder and these unclear naturalisation procedures for immigrants eventually cause damage to the state, society and the economy.
Yet another problem is the lack of reliable and exact statistics on immigration flows, including on the country’s labour force requirements. The quota system that was introduced is also subjective in nature and is not based on real knowledge of the specific situation.
We are well aware that some regions face quite an acute situation with a rapid increase in the number of immigrant workers. But we have to be particularly attentive when dealing with such problems and it is extremely important that the entire system of state power have a common view and implement a coordinated state policy regarding all the principal immigration issues.
I want to point out that when we say we have an acute situation in some regions, this is also a sign that our immigration policy is not working properly. In some regions we have too many immigrants and in others too few. We need specialists in specific areas in the regions where there is a genuine need for them and not just in the regions they would prefer to live in.
The immigration and demographic situation in the country requires us to take balanced measures to attract foreign workers on a large scale to the Russian economy overall. At the same time, we must keep in mind all possible and very sensitive changes to the social, ethnic and religious makeup of Russian society. In other words, we must also effectively protect our own national labour market and be particularly attentive to ensuring that the native Russian population does not end up paying an unjustified cost.
I would also like to point out that immigration policy is a powerful instrument for consolidating the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. People who come to Russia from the CIS countries can make a real contribution to strengthening our integration. Ensuring that they can legally work and live a normal social life here is one of the ways in which we can build up our cooperation with our closest partners. Drawing on these people is the most natural way for us to attract the labour force we need. After all, what is important to us is not religion, skin colour or other ethnic factors, but the fact that practically all these people speak Russian and know Russian culture. They have no problem adapting to Russian life. This is a huge advantage for us, an advantage that other countries do not have. Take western Europe, where there is a flow of immigrants from other regions, from North Africa and Latin America, for example. It is a complicated situation there because these immigrants take decades to adapt to life in European countries. Only the second and third generation really manages to adapt. We don’t have this problem and we should make use of this advantage.
Now let’s discuss all these issues in more detail.