Immigration to the Russian Federation

The problem of immigration became one of the main challenges for Russia in the second decade of the twenty-first century. However, there is still no comprehensive research on this subject in academic literature. Russia was not and is not seen as an immigration country. However, the observable trends and statistics contradict this. Russia’s vast territory and shrinking indigenous population are among the factors that encourage the arrival of a significant number of immigrants. Despite the crisis precipitated by the events in Ukraine, falling oil prices and economic problems, Russia ranked third in the world in terms of the number of immigrants in 2015. The article attempts to characterise immigration to Russia and to determine whether it is demographically necessary and if the current migration trends are having a positive impact on Russia’s demography. Answering these research questions will help to verify the claim that immigration is necessary for the further development of the Russian Federation; however, it is necessary to analyse which type of migration flows assist the Russian Federation in solving its demographic problems. Russia therefore needs a clear and effective strategy in this area, not ad hoc action.

source: IIR

Immigration to the Russian Federation: General characteristics

In 2015, the number of immigrants in the Russian Federation was 11,643,300 (a drop by 300,000 compared to the year 2000), which constituted about 8% of the country’s total population. The largest group were immigrants aged 20-64 (almost 80%). People over 65 also constituted a relatively high percentage (almost 13%), and people under 20 accounted for about 7% of the total number of immigrants in Russia. However, the median age of immigrants was 43, which means that migrants do not necessarily contribute to the “rejuvenation” of Russian society – the Russian Federation’s goal when it comes to demographics. Russia receives immigrants from more than 100 countries. The majority are citizens of the republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Over the years, in addition to citizens of Central Asian countries, the number of people coming from Armenia, Belarus and Moldova has increased.

Table 1: Number of immigrants from selected countries in the Russian Federation









 Arrived in FR

597 651

359 330

129 144

186 380

279 907

417 681

598 617









 from CIS countries:

547 386

326 561

114 121

170 851

261 495

363 955

536 157


29 878

14 906

4 277

8 900

22 874

22 287

24 326


19 123

15 951

5 124

12 949

35 753

36 978

45 670


17 575

10 274

5 309

5 619

5 517

16 564

17 741


235 903

124 903

29 552

38 606

38 830

45 506

65 750


13 752

15 536

6 948

15 669

23 265

34 597

26 045


13 750

11 652

6 391

8 649

16 433

23 594

34 026


23 053

11 043

5 346

6 523

27 028

41 674

47 638


16 501

6 738

6 299

4 089

3 336

5 442

6 539


39 620

40 810

21 457

37 126

42 539

87 902

74 242


138 231

74 748

23 418

32 721

45 920

49 411

194 180

 from other selected  countries:









2 861

1 121




8 547

9 043


3 483





1 537

1 283


24 517

20 213

5 540

6 806

7 454

7 728

7 038







1 068

2 894


5 658

1 785




1 427

1 533


1 785








2 379

1 753

2 692

2 900

2 585

4 239

3 976







2 252

2 091







3 653

4 012

Source: Own calculations based on data from the Russian Statistical Office,

This influx is mainly due to economic reasons and to a higher standard of living in the Russian Federation than in the countries of origin. There has also been an increase in the number of immigrants from Ukraine. These are mainly people of Russian origin from the eastern part of Ukraine. There was also a significant decrease in the inflow of people from post-Soviet countries which are not part of the CIS (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia) compared to the 1990s, but the number of immigrants from Georgia to Russia is still high.

In the 1990s, immigrants from the People’s Republic of China, who crossed Russia’s eastern border, were an important issue in Russian policy. There were concerns in Russian society that, as a result of improving Russian-Chinese political relations and better opportunities for financial gain for Chinese entrepreneurs, millions of Chinese would settle in Siberia and the Russian territories in the Far East. The influx of Chinese immigrants, combined with a significant outflow of Russians from Siberia and the Far East, led to concerns that Russia could lose influence in these areas to its neighbour. In fact, the number of Chinese citizens migrating to Russia turned out not to be so high and represented only a small percentage of all immigrants.

More and more immigrants are coming to Russia from other Asian countries, such as India and Vietnam. This is first and foremost labour migration, resulting from close ties between these countries. During the Cold War, Soviet-Indian relations were very well developed in the strategic, military, and economic fields. The close ties between the two countries were maintained after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Immigration to the Russian Federation: A typology

Immigration to Russia is shaped by two types of population flows. The first is the mass arrival of Russians returning to their homeland from other post-Soviet republics. In the 1990s, ethnic Russians accounted for 81% of total immigration. In the following years, this percentage decreased significantly, down to 32% in 2007. Initially ethnic return waves were behind immigration, and since the beginning of the twenty-first century, economic migration. At that time, the growing Russian economy began to attract foreign migrants, often not of Russian origin, from other parts of the post-Soviet space, especially from the less developed countries of Central Asia, namely Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Currently, they represent the main group of economic migrants in the Russian Federation. Of all immigrants, only a small percentage are short-term migrants. In particular, this group includes entrepreneurs and managers working on fixed-term contracts for transnational companies. This is due to the changing nature of the purpose of coming to Russia.

An analysis of the characteristics of immigration in Russia would not be complete without taking into account the widespread illegal migration in Russia, which is mainly concentrated in the employment sector. If the total number of migrants with legal and illegal residence is practically equal, the proportion in the employment sector is about 1 to 4.

In addition, three other types of migration should also be distinguished when assessing the characteristics of immigration to Russia. Over the past twenty years, in addition to economic migrants, Russia has also received many refugees. At the beginning of the 1990s, after the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians and Azerbaijanis left for Russia. Similarly, Meskhetian Turks have been displaced in large numbers from Uzbekistan because of ethnic violence. Tajik citizens left their home country because of the civil war and settled in Russia and other post-Soviet republics. However, it is impossible to give the actual number of refugees who arrived in the Russian Federation in the 1990s. Still, we can say that the number of ethnic conflicts in Central Asia was the reason for their high inflow. The Andijan massacre in 2005 also caused the arrival of many refugees. Currently, many people from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Angola, Ethiopia and Somalia are seeking asylum in Russia.

It should also be borne in mind that the Russian Federation is a transit country for migration. Migrants from Afghanistan, China, Angola, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Ethiopia pass through Russian territory to reach Western Europe. Often, instead of moving on to their destination, they decide to stay in Russia.

The large number of stateless persons living in the Russian Federation remains an important issue. Although it fell significantly, from 429,891 in 2002 to 178,245 in 2010, it is still relatively high. This phenomenon is witnessed in many countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large number of people lost their citizenship because they were unable to confirm or to acquire the citizenship of any of the newly formed states. This was due to the complex legal requirements adopted in the new countries. Over time, and also thanks to the interest and assistance of several human rights organisations, some regulatory procedures and legislative modifications have been put in place, making it easier for these people to acquire citizenship. However, the issue of stateless persons remains a serious problem. ( MPC - Migration Profile: Russia, MPC - Migration Policy Centre, June 2013, p. 2.)

Immigration to the Russian Federation and demographic issues: Trends and prospects

The issue of immigration to the Russian Federation should be considered in a broader demographic context. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, two major demographic trends can be observed in the Russian Federation: a shrinking population and an ageing society.

The Russian Federation struggles with demographic challenges. Since 1992, the population of Russia has been gradually declining. According to data from the Russian Statistical Office, the population of the Russian Federation was the highest in 1991 (148.3 million). In 2001 it was 146.3 million, while in 2014 it was only 143.7 million. Russia’s population therefore decreased by more than 2.5 million over a period of 13 years. It was the first time in Russian history during peacetime that mortality was higher than the birth rate and the inflow of immigrants combined. Russia is an ageing society. People over 55 years of age constitute almost 28% of the entire population, and the fertility rate is only 1.61. With such demographic trends, it is difficult to ensure the replacement of generations, as the results of censuses show.

In addition, the Russian Federation faces a number of social problems which make it difficult to achieve positive results in terms of demography. Russia has a very high abortion rate and a high mortality rate among men, often of working age. The widespread phenomenon of alcoholism, which often causes the premature death of relatively young people, is also a serious problem. Although Russia is a highly feminised country and the number of women per 1000 men (especially in the 50-60 age group) is about 1100, there is currently a high drop in the number of women in the 20-30 age group due to an altered demographic pyramid as a result of World War II. Decrease in the number of women of childbearing age, increased stress levels in a changing society and a falling standard of

The trend of negative natural growth has been slightly reversed in recent years. In 2012, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of births exceeded the number of deaths. There has been a significant increase in life expectancy, an increase in the birth rate and a reduction in mortality. However, population growth is largely due to the influx of migrants, particularly from the countries of Central Asia. Secondly, the 1990s generation is too small to maintain the birth rate at a high level, and the mortality rate will increase as mortality among the generations born in the 1940s and early 1950s will naturally rise.

According to the calculations of the Russian Statistical Office, taking into account the results of censuses and demographic dynamics in recent years, Russia’s population at the beginning of 2025 will be about 145.7 million.

Due to these negative demographic forecasts, the Russian authorities have taken steps to prevent these problems. The measures taken have primarily been aimed at increasing the birth rate, reducing mortality and improving the quality of healthcare (including measures to reduce smoking and alcohol consumption among the Russian population). These actions have had a positive impact. Above all, the negative birth rate increased to a positive level in 2013-2014, but this does not solve the problem. The loss in the Russian population is too great and the birth rate is still too low. It is also worth noting that positive natural growth can be observed mainly in large cities, especially those in the west of the country. The issue still remains a problem in the Far East, which is becoming more and more depopulated.

Being aware of the demographic challenges, the Russian authorities have begun to take a more comprehensive approach to the issue of immigration. One of the first documents raising the issue was the Russian Federation’s demographic development concept until 2015, which pointed to the necessity of attracting immigrants from CIS countries to Russia as one of the priorities in the field of migration. In June 2012, the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, approved a document entitled The Concept of State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation until 2025. This document covers all types of migration: academic mobility, temporary migration, long-term and short-term migration, permanent migration, illegal migration, educational (school) migration, economic migration, and seasonal labour migration. It does not introduce any significant changes, nor does it contain any specific declarations. However, due to economic issues, significant migrant inflows and demographic problems in Russia, it was adopted to highlight the readiness of the Russian authorities to increase supervision and make migrant flows more orderly. The document also mentions the need to implement structured measures to attract foreign workers. One of the ways of increasing the population of the country is to give migrants permanent residence permits, as well as to attract highly qualified foreign workers, which, due to the needs of the Russian economy, is essential for its further development.

Although the state migration policy concept pointed to attracting foreigners as well as legalising their stay as a way of solving Russia’s demographic and economic problems, political actions and public opinion were actually in favour of pushing out migrants, especially those from Central Asian countries. Other approaches were based on drawing a clear distinction between migrants temporarily residing in the Russian Federation and those permanently residing in Russia with the prospect of acquiring Russian citizenship. Another direction in migration policy was to set up social integration mechanisms. The above shows that despite the significant evolution of immigration policy in Russia, there are still discrepancies between conceptualisation and implementation.

At the same time, it should be stressed that migrants will not be able to fully compensate for the decrease in Russia’s population. If trends in Russian demography continue, some forecasts suggest that Russia’s population will shrink to 112 million in 2050. The result will be a shortage of labour, a drop in the number of military recruits, schoolchildren, students, and a rapidly ageing population. Russia’s openness to immigrants is essential in order to counteract the effects of the demographic crisis. The inflow of foreigners is currently the most important compensating factor for the shortage of people. In the Russian Federation, many sectors of the economy could not function smoothly without employing foreigners. The management of migration processes has thus become one of the main demographic policy tools. However, those admitted into Russia need to undergo thorough verification. It is important for immigrants to be legally resident in Russia. A big advantage would also be to encourage young people (e.g. students) to move to Russia, so that later on young educated people can fill positions where highly qualified staff is needed.

About the author

Linda Masalska, MA has been working at the Institute of International Relations, Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw, since 2015. Currently a coordinator of international research cooperation and student exchange programs between partner universities in Europe and overseas. Previously, between 2011 – 2015, she cooperated with Polish Association for International Studies (preparation and financial settlement of research projects and general administrative and logistical tasks). 

Further reading on the topic in our library:

MAIN, Steven J. - Russia's "golden bridge" is crumbling - 

ANDRIENKO, Yuri - Understanding Migration in Russia - 

PEREPELKIN, Lev Stanislavovič. Nelegitimnaja immigracija i neoficial’naja zanjatost’ v Rossijskoj Federacii -