Every year since 1994, Nino, 32, has gone to Russia to find work. For the last two years, she was a waitress at a Georgian restaurant in Moscow.
She comes back to Georgia only for about a month, to see her 15-year-old daughter and parents, who live in Tbilisi.
Nino, who asked that her name not be used because of fear it might create problems getting documents to work in Russia, is in Tbilisi now. Usually she would be working in Moscow at this time.
But she cannot go to Russia because no visas have been given to Georgians for about four months. However, because of new sanctions on foreigners working in the Russian capital, she may have even bigger difficulties this year.
In the beginning of this year, the Russian government imposed new regulations on labor migrants.
Under these regulations, only about 308,000 labor migrants with visas will be allowed to work in Russia this year. That is a small number compared to the past.
From China alone, about 800,000 people came to work annually in the Russia regions, according to the latest statistics from the Russian Academy of Science in the Institute of Demography and Human Ecology.
Other new governmental regulations on labor migrants include:
* Beginning March 1, workers with visas are allowed to work only in certain regions;
* Beginning April 1, no labor migrants are allowed to work in the open markets. Also they are forbidden to sell alcoholic drinks and medicines;
* The employer must prepare all the documents to invite a foreign worker in his company.
These new regulations will have an impact on Georgian workers. Annually, about 90,000 citizens of Georgia go to work in Russia, according to the latest statistics from the Russian Academy of Science in the Institute of Demography and Human Ecology. The largest number of Georgian migrants who seek work abroad go to Russia, according to the Georgian State Statistics Department.
According to another proposed Russian government regulation on migrant workers, migrants with visas will be allowed to work only in six regions: Lipetsk Oblast, Republic of Buryatiya, Kemerovo Oblast, Omsk Oblast, Tyumen Oblast and Krasnodar region.
According to the Russian government’s 2006 “index of necessity of workers” in these regions, during the “hot” period, from March until September, the shortage of workers in these areas can be 10,000 up to 50,000.
In addition, the process of getting approved to work in Russia will be more complicated under the new regulations. The employer will have to draw up all documents. The employer must present medical information on each migrant and give official information on the prospective worker’s professional education.
The company must be officially registered and not have any tax debt. The employer will have to pay fines if information in documents is falsified or if the migrant is discovered working for another company.
Nino is pessimistic about her chances for getting work under these new rules.
“No employer will worry and collect all these documents for me. I know it definitely,” she said.
According to the official statistics of Georgia, the majority of those who go to work in Russia from Georgia come from the regions. They are usually 25 to 35 years old, and almost none of them have a higher education. Labor migrants mainly find work in markets and construction in Russia.
According to the Georgian Statistics Department, the majority of migrants go to work in Russia because of economic problems. In Georgia, they cannot find jobs where they can receive the same salaries as they get in Russia.
Labor migrants send a significant part of their wages back to their families in Georgia. According to the World Bank, electronic transfers from Russia accounted for 5 percent of Georgia’s Gross National Product in 2006, or about USD $365 million. But the World Bank says the amount of money from Russia may actually be much higher, because often migrants bring money with them to Georgia or send it with friends, so it is not officially recorded.
The proposal for new governmental regulations on migrants was developed in autumn of the last year, at the same time that the Russia-Georgia relationship deteriorated for unrelated reasons.
In September 2006 the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia arrested four Russian military men in Tbilisi and accused them of espionage. As a result, Russia halted transport and postal communication between the two countries, withdrew its diplomatic corps from Georgia, and deported about 2,500 Georgian citizens. “This is a correct decision,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 16 last year, after the Russian Prime-Minister, Michael Fradkov, reported to him that the new regulations on labor migrants had been accepted. According to Putin, the Russian economy doesn’t have ‘’a shortage of workers’’ from foreign countries.
“We turn to the selective migration. We want to create a sieve to select the foreign workers, who are necessary for Russia,” said Alexander Safonov, director of the Department of Labor Affairs and State Civil Service of the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development, in an interview with the newspaper Kommersant.
Stronger control over labor migrants could create new problems for Georgian citizens who are now in Russia because less than a quarter of them officially register and have all the necessary documents for work, referring to the Russian Federal State Statistics Service.
According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2006 only 160 citizens of Georgia asked for official documents to register legally in Russia.
Armen Khnkoyan, 35, had worked in Russia for six years when, last February, he and his friend were imprisoned when they arrived at the airport in Moscow. Within a week, they were sent back to Georgia. It was about seven months before Russia cut off its ties with Georgia.
“Nobody explained the reasons to us. The only reason was that we were citizens of Georgia,” said Khnkoyan.
“They expel us, hate us. How could we work with them if they want to drive us away?” he added. But even in this situation, Khnkoyan says that the majority of seasonal workers will go to work in Russia this year.
For the past year, Khnkoyan has been repairing houses, as he did for the last six years in a suburban town of Moscow, called Mytischi. But this year, he did the work in the southern region of Georgia.
“During six months, I could earn $4,000 there [in Russia]. Here I could not earn even $1,500. We can hardly live on this money,” said Khnkoyan.
“Our people [seasonal workers] will go to Russia to work anyway, because there is no place to get money here. They will go to very far villages to give bribe to local policeman and to stay there,” he said.
But one Georgian official said the Russian crackdown might produce the opposite of the intended effect. “Such restrictions will create more illegal migrants,” predicted Natali Kordzaya, chief of the Migration Department in the Georgia Ministry of Justice.
The new labor laws, plus Russia’s earlier decision to ban the sale of Georgian wines and Borjomi water from its markets, has led some Georgians to talk about reducing dependence on Russia.“The embargo on wines and other products became a lesson for us, that we should look for other markets,” said Giga Bokeria, parliamentarian from the leading political party National Movement - Democrats.
According to Bokeria, the Georgian government and parliament are not going to undertake any special policy concerning the citizens who will not be able to go to work in Russia. He said that “migrants will understand where they should go themselves.”
“Regulation, improvement of services and investment are our priority. And we should pay attention to them, instead of concerning of what is accepted in Russia,” said Bokeria.
According to the Director of the Georgian Social Assistance and Employment Agency, Levan Peradze, only a little more than 1,000 people will be able to find new jobs in Georgia in 2007. “There will be constructions of roads, buildings of hospitals and schools. And in these spheres we need workers,” said Peradze.
According to him, in large Georgian cities people can find place to work.
“In regions, no improvement in employment problems is expected,” said Peradze.