This week, the Federation Council announced the creation of new draft legislation entitled, “On Naturalization and Citizenship,” which could be introduced to the Duma as early as this fall. The legislation is intended to be a complete overhaul of Russia’s immigration law and would extend novel benefits to immigrants such as a lower tax rate and the right to vote.
In a roundtable discussion on the law, Council Member Vladimir Slutsker said that out of the 9 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who moved to Russia between 1992 and 2005, only 3.8 million became citizens. Of the 5 million who did not become citizens, at least one million are still living in Russia. And though they are fully qualified to become citizens, they have chosen not to because of bureaucratic obstacles. In addition, there are the illegal immigrants, who reportedly constitute the majority of Russia’s 10-12 million foreign workers.
According to the roundtable experts, there will be several ‘corridors’ to citizenship under the new immigration regime. For example, citizenship would be allowed based on education, assuming the applicant speaks Russian, is ready to integrate into Russian society, etc. There will also be military, geopolitical, and business ‘corridors’, which would be based on specific skills in those areas.
Slutsker ended by adding, “Today it is impossible to imagine the demographic and economic development of Russia without immigrants,” who are necessary to offset Russia’s population decline.
The proposed reforms are interesting for several reasons. First, they appear to be a departure from the anti-immigrant tone of the government earlier this year. In January, the Duma passed several immigration laws aimed at reducing the participation of immigrants in the economy. Most visibly, the legislation banned foreigners from working as retailers in Russian markets.
Second, I cannot begin to comprehend why the government wants to introduce legislation like this right before the Duma elections. As I’ve written about before, the government is trying to ensure that the elections will go off without any surprises or disruptions. And my previous post discussed the rising tide of xenophobia and racism in Russia. Passing legislation that gives foreigners more rights and an easy path to citizenship right before an election seems like a gift to nationalists, who are more likely to disrupt the outcome of the election than any other group.
Lastly, I can’t help but point out once again the similar issues facing the United States and Russia – in this case, a need for foreign workers but majority opposition to their presence. It will be interesting to see how this legislation is debated in the Duma (hilarious antics from Zhirinovskij all but guaranteed). Regardless of whether the Federation Council’s legislation is passed or faces the same fate as the U.S. Senate bill, it is clear that both the U.S. and Russia face huge demographic changes that will redefine what it means to be ‘American’ and ‘Russkiy‘.
Note: I will post a link to the actual legislation as soon as it is available online