Less than a fifth of Russians would consider emigrating, poll finds

Less than a fifth of Russians would consider emigrating, poll finds
The frequently posited notion of a Russian ‘brain drain’ appears to be challenged by the poll findings.
By Henry Kirby in London July 21, 2016

Less than one in five Russians would consider emigrating, a poll by the Moscow-based Levada-Center has found, with three quarters saying that they never would.

The poll, conducted at the end of May, asked 800 Russians to state whether or not they would consider life in another country, and if so, why. Of those who said that they would consider leaving, 42% cited the desire for better living conditions as their main motivation, while 41% put their wish to leave the country down to the unstable economic situation.

28% of respondents said they wanted to emigrate in order to secure a better future for their children, while 17% said their desire to leave was based on the lack of protection against the arbitrariness of Russian authorities and officials.

With only 19% expressing a desire to leave country, the frequently posited notion of a Russian ‘brain drain’ appears to be challenged by the poll findings. Indeed, according to data from Rosstat, Russia’s net emigration figure last year was negative. While 353,000 people left the country, nearly 600,000 settled in it, as the third chart shows, meaning net immigration of 245,000.

In a column for news agency Bloomberg, Russian emigrant Leonid Bershidsky, founding editor of Russian newspaper Vedemosti, cited Eurostat figures showing that in 2014 only 73,821 Russians emigrated to the EU. While the volume of emigrants marked a 22.5% increase on 2009’s figure, the “absolute increase is tiny", Bershidsky noted, when looked at as a share of Russia’s 143.5 million population.

While the Rosstat figures certainly prove that the gross emigration figure so often touted by the international press is misrepresentative, the fact remains that much of the inbound migration affecting the net figure is made up of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) migrants often engaging in unskilled labour. The brain drain may still be taking place without actually making a dent in the overall number of Russian residents, as skilled and creative westbound emigrants are replaced with a revolving inflow of unskilled migrants from the former Soviet Union.

As geopolitical consultancy group Stratfor recently put it, the immigrants “from mostly Muslim former Soviet states are entering Russia in search of work” and could potentially be “altering the ethnic and religious composition of the population and heightening tension in the process".

While Rosstat does not record the type of work that emigrants engage in after relocating, it may be possible to infer the type of emigrants leaving Russia based on their destinations. More developed economies tend to have stricter immigration laws than less developed ones. As the chart below shows, migrant flows with CIS countries has consistently been in net immigration territory, while flows with non-former Soviet Union OECD nations has in all but three of the last 19 years resulted in net emigration. The data suggests that the net effect of migration patterns is that Russians tend to leave the country for more developed economies while being replaced by inbound migrants from the CIS.