Migrants' interaction with the formal and informal state in the Russian Federation

Migrants' interaction with the formal and informal state in the Russian Federation

Paul Becker


This doctoral research project examines the question of migrants’ interaction with the formal and informal state in the Russian Federation. The main focus of the project is the different resources and strategies of diverse migrant groups in the Russian Federation in order to negotiate with the formal and informal state in Russia.

The questions to be addressed are: What are the specific problems of migrants in relation to the city and state? In which situations are they confronted with the formal and informal state? How do migrants use social and ethnic networks, NGO and trade union support, as well as the support of churches and Islamic organizations? And how do the resources and strategies of diverse migrant groups differ according to their migration channels, regional and local identities, language, religious traditions and ethnicity?

From the beginning of the twenty-first century, Russia, and Moscow in particular, has experienced a steady influx of migrants and refugees. Visa-free and green border regimes with many states of the Former Soviet Union, the relative ease of acquiring a Russian visa through informal methods despite officially strict immigration laws, and the pervasive nature of the shadow economy, have all favoured the emergence of irregular migration in Russia. The Federal Migration Service has estimated the number of irregular migrant workers in Russia in 2012 at about 5 million. And yet most migrants initially enter Russia legally. All migrants, however, are confronted with a formal and an informal state they have to navigate in order to secure residence, work, and access to services. Even during the era of the Soviet Union, the state in general was characterized by informal economic and ‘personal’ (Blat)-relations. These informal relations and corrupt practices are deeply rooted in Russian society and common to the present day. For migrants this means that there are no binding rules to follow, it is generally more effective to evade than follow the law, and that even a legal status provides no guarantee against falling victim to the arbitrariness of state control authorities.

For his research Paul has been conducting fieldwork in Moscow as a site that accommodates the most international migrants and refugees in the Russian Federation. He collaborated closely with migrant organisations, human rights activists and lawyers. He conducted interviews and participant observation with migrants and refugees in Moscow who were from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Afghanistan, Syria, the Philippines, Sudan and Egypt.