Count us as normally cautious when something seems too slick, or too glossy, at first sight. Thus, a group calling themselves “Foreigners In Russia” has peaked our interest, but not necessarily our endorsement as of yet. When something hits social media so polished at the outset, there is the possibility of a tie to the government’s propaganda machine, which frankly in Russia is very sophisticated. We will provide some insight at the end of this article.
Meanwhile we’ll give at least some leeway for the sake of argument. That includes the makeup of the expat (foreign) population in Russia. Most expats living in Russia did not just wake up one morning with the epiphany along the lines of “I will move to Russia today!” Instead, most have either work or family connections upon moving to Russia. All expats must have reasons that pass the muster of the government.
So, that being said, where do these expats come from?
According to this chart, once you subtract the CIS (former Soviet) countries, most expats are from Europe. When you look at these numbers, it is useful to understand that they very likely represent trading and business relationships between Russia and abroad. Most of the expats are employed by companies that have origins in these European nations, or at companies that do business with those nations.
What about Latin America?
The numbers are much smaller for several reasons: the ability of poor countries to afford travel and options to live abroad, the reality that people with darker skin are not so readily accepted in Russia, and that only recently has Russia began to cultivate relationships with Latin American nations via the BRICS trading alliance.
There are legitimate reasons for Western expats to be concerned about life in Russia. New laws dictate that any foreign resident declared as an ‘undesirable’ might well be required to pay a 500,000 Ruble fine (approximately $7,700) and be sentenced up to six years in a Russian prison. Such laws are designed to keep foreigners from migrating illegally, and from participating in activities that the government views as political in nature.
The Russian economy is contracting and Russia’s Federal Migration Service reports that since early 2014, “some 41 percent of Spanish nationals, 38 percent of British nationals, 36 percent of U.S. nationals and 31 percent of German nationals have left Russia”, according to a report in The Moscow Times.
Currently, there is even more concern for American expats given the current tensions between Moscow and Washington. When Americans do run into trouble with Russian authorities, Russia does not recognize the standing of the US Embassy and its diplomatic missions to assist American citizens. The mood in Russia has turned decidedly anti-American in recent times, especially since the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s war in Eastern Ukraine.
Russia actively screens potential expats for their suitability to live in Russia. Under new migration rules, those applying to live in Russia must pass a basic language test that includes a minimum vocabulary of 1,250 words. A test on Russian civics must be passed, and new questions added to the Russian history test include the applicants view on the annexation of Crimea, and a question on Stalin’s policy of farm collectivization. Passing the test is required: 60% is the minimum score for those with a work permit, and 75% is needed for those seeking a residency permit.
As to the truthfulness in the charts and their percentages listed above, how many American live in Russia? The answer is about the same number who live on the Netherlands Antilles island of Curacao: about 6,000. How many Britons live in Russia? The answer: 6,100 according to the British Institute for Public Policy Research. The first chart lists the number at 10%, yet it fails to list the number of Americans.
Our suspicions remain just that: suspicious.