The hunt for illegal immigrants

Operation Illegal Migrant, which has just ended in Russia, was timed to coincide with the springtime labour-migration season from abroad. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) saw this as the right moment to help foreigners register in the Russian Federation, and at the same time to keep an eye on illegal migrants.

About 378,000 foreign workers from 127 countries worked in Russia last year; of these, almost half were citizens of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Construction workers accounted for 40 percent of all migrants, with shop workers and restaurant staff making up almost 22 percent and factory workers a further 13 percent. This year, we expect nearly 500,000 foreign workers to register in Russia.

It goes without saying that Russia needs labour migrants. However, law-enforcement agencies cannot disregard their working and living conditions, nor their social status. For this reason, migration inspectorates were established in some regions at the initiative of the FMS. These divisions, which are called on to monitor compliance with national labour legislation on construction sites, agricultural farms and trade outlets, exposed more than 120,000 administrative violations in 2003 alone. Quite a few employers are not registered anywhere, lack any statutory documents, and have no files at local tax inspectorates. Moreover, their economic assets are in the red. Such front companies enable crooks to get rich quick and disappear to the four winds. As a rule, such "employers" open their offices in rented flats or even utility premises.

Operation Illegal Migrant exposed hundreds of forgers of documents such as residence and work permits, migration cards, etc. These full-colour documents mislead quite a few foreign migrants, and particularly newcomers. Recently, FMS officials arrested five such conmen in Moscow, confiscating scanners as well as 500 fake document forms and dozens of stamps and seals.

Interior Ministry bodies (such as the police and visa authorities) are also to blame for the emergence of countless "offices" forging immigration documents. It takes some 30-45 days to draw up all legitimate documents for employers and labour migrants alike, because all of them must be screened thoroughly. Conmen take advantage of this situation, as they can provide expensive forged documents that seem authentic in no time at all.

The FMS believes that a simplified registration procedure - a "one window" system could help to rectify the situation. Under such a system, any foreigner would contact us twice. First of all, he or she would submit all the required documents, asking advice and receiving information. Such people would formalize their labour-migrant status, and also specify their legal status. The second visit would be to collect the documents. Without all the middlemen, document-issue deadlines could be halved. The potential of crooks would thus be minimized.

We also believe that the currently permissive procedure for issuing documents should become more informative. This would be more rational, because the labour-services market boasts hundreds of companies with an impeccable business reputation: such transparent companies, which pay all their taxes, can be checked by law-enforcement officers easily enough. They have every right to get any permit from us without delay.

The FMS is also supposed to monitor labour migrants' living conditions. Unfortunately, our latest Moscow checks show that some foreign workers are living inside hangars and metal sheds, and that their living conditions are downright atrocious; moreover, any health care seems to be out of the question. We have contacted municipal authorities, demanding that they control those organizations which do not care about foreign workers. Such "employers" must therefore be forbidden from hiring any workers at all.

The FMS has suggested making all those who care nothing about worthy living and working conditions for labour migrants criminally liable. At the moment, a system of fines and penalties is still in force. It is crystal clear that we need an appropriate law or a migration code that would take into account current normative and legal documents pertaining to the employment of foreign workers in Russia. In January the FMS opened a hotline, thus learning much about the problems of labour migrants. In total, 11,500 phone calls have been received since the start of the year.

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Author`s name Editorial Team