January 9, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10409

Russia Is No Better Than The West In Handling The Flow Of Illegal Work Migrants

January 9, 2023
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10409

Some problems are universal, but it is still surprising to find that an authoritarian state such as Russia is as helpless as the US and EU, when it comes to controlling the flow of illegal work migrants. A report by Yevgeny Fedorov in Voennoe Obozrenie (Military Review) sheds light on the illegal foreign workers flooding Russia. The foreign workers from Central Asia help propel the flow of drugs from Afghanistan to Russia. The Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev when disclosing the nature and dimensions of the problem complained that his ministry was taking all the blame while other ministries, who benefited from cheap illegal labor, were not pulling their weight. Some even argued that with the conscription of Russians to fight in Ukraine, more labor migrants were needed.

Fedorov's article titled "Migrants Expand Russia’s Drug Market" follows below:[1]

Who is to blame?

[Russian] Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev announced alarming figures at the last Anti-Drug Committee: up to 80% of criminal offences committed by migrants involve drug trafficking. In addition to the stock phrases about the need to strengthen and tighten supervision, Kolokoltsev made a very fair point:

"Despite the fact that 16 agencies in our country are the beneficiaries of migrant labor, society demands answers only from the Ministry of Interior in this regard. Our department has already made all relevant instructions to the territorial bodies 'in the field.' I ask the representatives of other agencies and employers to pay attention to this issue."

Vladimir Kokoltsev, the Minister of Interior (Source:

He is absolutely right, as drug trafficking is a multi-headed hydra, and this "disease" must be tackled comprehensively. If the builders, as they claim, cannot do without foreign labor and import hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Central Asia, it’s, probably, wrong to dump the blame for all the consequences solely on the Interior Ministry and the FSB, especially in the light of the special military operation [the SVO], which requires additional exertion on their part.

If you look at the figures, then it’s not surprising that drug trade flourishes amongst migrant workers. Well, not just "flourishes," it’s gaining momentum. Between 3 and 5 million foreign nationals enter Russia every year, who, subsequently, work illegally.

The aforementioned is the official data, in reality, the number of illegal immigrants can be easily multiplied by two. They are primarily immigrants from Central Asia: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Every migrant worker, who is not officially employed poses several threats to Russia.

First, the budget loses taxes and fees.

Second, a shadow funding mechanism for illegal labor is triggered.

Third, a migrant living on "bird's rights" [Russian expression, meaning "illegally"] is forced to turn to criminal entities for protection. Apparently, the very 16 agencies that Vladimir Kolokoltsev mentioned, find such a thing very profitable. No matter how hard our valiant police try, they will never be able to catch criminals faster than the agencies will import shady migrants.

In Central Asia, a system of supplying drugs to Russia has been finetuned to the tiniest detail. According to the Interior Ministry, the trafficking of illicit substances from Afghanistan coincides every step of the way with the channels of both illegal and legal migration. Whereas a few years ago the illicit goods were mainly destined for central Russia, now the "drug lords" have expanded their activities into Siberia and the Far East.

This is largely due to large infrastructure projects implemented by the state in the remote regions [of Russia]. A vicious circle has taken shape – where massive government funds for construction go there as well masses of migrants, the majority of them illegal are attracted as well.

Such workers aren’t only themselves frequently addicted but are also "sales managers." This situation facilitates the import of kilograms of narcotics, psychotropic substances and their precursors to a region (well, "kilograms" is an understatement).

What should be done?

The growth in the number of drug-related crimes among migrants is a direct consequence of the unscrupulous entities that use migrant labor. For instance, at the end of last year, the Ministry of Construction requested the state to allow simplified entry for migrant workers. Back then a manpower shortage was registered on the labor market, which could have resulted in a rise of the "cost per square meter" housing indicator. Except that this was not entirely true.

Last year an explosive growth in demand for real estate was observed, which developers - companies could not help but exploit. And they were not prepared to share this [profit] margin, as they needed to recoup the losses of the Covid-19 depression. That is why the only apparent solution was "open borders" for all those, who sought to work on Russian construction sites, hence the growth in drug trafficking.

To be fair, such shocking figures are partly based on a "low base effect." In past years, the Covid-19 did not allow active import of migrant workers, and when they came like a broad river, the growth in drug trafficking also started to show double-digit numbers.

Work migrants came to Russia like a broad river (Source:

In the very near future a second episode awaits us, as the 16 agencies mentioned by Kolokoltsev will ask for another easing of the border regulations. They will cite as the reason 300 thousand mobilized men, whom the army has withdrawn from the labor market.

It’s necessary to replace them with somebody, and the migrants from Central Asia are here in the right amount. It’s hard to argue, if you don't grasp the essence of the problem. Developers and other users of migrant labor unanimously refuse to hire Russians because of the high associated costs.

The proverbial "social package" is indeed a complicated issue, as it threatens to seriously increase cost of housing, street cleaning and other services, which use mainly migrant labor.

Migrant labor performs essential services like street cleaning (Source:

They only forget that the money paid to citizens of Central Asian states is almost entirely being withdrawn from Russia. Salaries to Russians, on the other hand, remain within the country. The situation now is such that one can't go to foreign resorts or afford to buy a foreign car.

Simple financial logic dictates that if you raise people’s salaries, they will be drawn to your company, and the proverbial "money circulation" in Russia will be launched. Also, people will be more willing to buy your flats. This logic is simple, but totally unprofitable for employers, who receive huge profits from undocumented labor. Somehow this could have been tolerated before, but now the story became more complicated because it is heavily overgrown with narcotics that threaten to ruin entire generations.

Fighting the "drug hydra" is difficult, but possible, first of all, with a sound bureaucracy.

The state, being the main regulator, must think about restrictive requirements for the migrants’ employment. For instance, to introduce quotas on the number of jobs for nationals and for newcomers.

The second step is to stimulate competition among Russians for jobs previously held by migrant workers. Honest businessmen should not be put in a desperate situation, as such a businessmen may raise a salary and meet the quota, but the Russians perform half-heartedly. When an employer will have the leverage to fire a snickering deadbeat with a Russian passport, the next one will think twice before working poorly. In a situation where there is no way to do without the migrant labor, new approaches are needed to filter out undesirable candidates.

The second step is to stimulate competition among Russians for jobs previously held by visitors from near abroad. Honest businessmen should not be put in a desperate situation - he raises his salary and meets the quota, while the Russians work with their sleeves down. When an employer has the leverage to fire a stingy bum with a Russian passport, the next one will think twice before folding his arms. In a situation where there is no way to do without the hands of migrant workers, new approaches are needed to filter out undesirable elements.

For instance, [imposing] personal responsibility on employers for each guest-worker would look great.

 If some migrant worker, say, is caught with a couple of grams of a banned substance, the owner of the company [in which such a worker was employed] should also be investigated. It shouldn’t necessarily lead to criminal charges, but heavy fines can be imposed.

 In this case, it shouldn’t matter whether the migrant worker was employed officially or under the table. In this situation, the employer will think twice about whether to put the new employee on the staff or not, or whether they should do a preliminary background-check on a job applicant?

For some, the measures described above will seem too complex, either ineffective or too naive. Be that as it may, new steps should be taken, previous security measures are clearly insufficient.


[1], December 29, 2022.

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