The Armenian government is negotiating with the Russian authorities on the facilitation of immigration and employment rules for hundreds of thousands of Armenians working in Russia, a senior official in Yerevan said on Thursday.
Gagik Yeganian, head of the State Migration Service, said Yerevan hopes to secure privileged terms for them before Armenia becomes a member of Russia’s Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Membership in the union means, among other things, mutual opening of the labor markets of the member states.
“The sooner we have such rules of the game for our migrants, the sooner thousands of our citizens will benefit from that,” Yeganian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The job market would be fully open to them,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “So Armenian citizens would be equal to Russian citizens in terms of employment.”
According to Russian immigration authorities, around 500,000 Armenian nationals resided in Russia as of last October. An estimated 170,000 of them fell foul of new and tougher Russian immigration rules which took effect in January and now risk deportation. Thousands of other Armenians, who travel to Russia for seasonal work each year, have reportedly been barred from entering the country for the same reason.
In Yeganian’s words, Armenian government officials are also discussing the fate of those persons in their ongoing talks with Russian colleagues. He said the government hopes that the Russians will legalize their stay and lift the entry bans.
Russia has been the main destination for up to a million Armenians who have emigrated from their homeland in search of employment since the early 1990s. It accounts for the bulk of vital remittances sent home by the migrant workers. According to government data, those cash inflows were equivalent to 14 percent of Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product last year.
Commenting on the talks cited by Yeganian, Hranush Kharatian, a prominent sociologist and expert on migration issues, said the authorities in Yerevan understand the significance of the remittances for the Armenian economy. “Economic processes in our country depend in large measure on those remittances,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
But she said the main government motive is to minimize the number of disgruntled and unemployed Armenians who could pose a threat to President Serzh Sarkisian’s hold on power. She said the government finds it much easier to facilitate their emigration than to help create jobs or business opportunities for them in Armenia.