Armenian migrant workers reassess work amid collapsing Russian economy
Desperate for economic options in her home country, Marine Khachatryan found work at a flower shop on the outskirts of Moscow in 2020, while her husband found work in construction.
But then came the invasion of Ukraine, which led to punitive Western sanctions and a crisis in the Russian economy.
“We came here to make money and until the war everything was fine. Now nobody wants to buy flowers and the owner [of the shop] continues to lose money,” Khachatryan said. “I thought about trying to find another job, but Russia is getting more and more expensive.” Instead, she decided to return to Armenia. “It’s a nightmare. I can go back to working in beauty salons, but I don’t know what my husband will do.
Every year, tens of thousands of Armenians – especially men from small towns and villages – travel to Russia for seasonal work, especially in construction.
Estimates of exact numbers vary widely. Armenia itself reports that about 80,000 people travel to Russia every year for seasonal work. But Russian data advances the figure to 300,000, which would represent more than 10% of the Armenian population.
An unknown number of other recent migrants from Armenia are living in Russia on a more permanent basis, some even obtaining Russian citizenship, but still sending money home to their families in Armenia, a vital part of the country’s economy.
This figure is now expected to drop dramatically. “It could represent a drop of up to 40%,” Finance Minister Tigran Khachatryan said. Told the Armenian State News Agency on March 28.
Armenian migrant workers say many jobs in Russia are disappearing, and in those that remain, wages – when converted into Armenian drams – are unpredictable. At the start of the Russian invasion and the sanctions that were quickly imposed in retaliation, the ruble lost half its value, although it has since recovered.
“Wages have gone down, and employers may not be able to pay at all,” said Tatevik Bezhanyan, a migration expert at the Armenian charity group Caritas. “For now, they can still pay, but if the situation doesn’t improve, there will definitely be problems,” she told Eurasianet.
Remittances “are likely to decline with weaker economic activity in Russia, the depreciation of the ruble and restrictions on financial flows from Russia,” the World Bank said in a statement. report last month. “Under a more severe contraction in Russia, many migrants could be forced to return to Armenia, putting pressure on labor markets and fiscal spending.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the World Bank predicted Armenia’s GDP growth of 5.3% in 2022. revised down at 1.2%.
So far this year, Russia has not published figures measuring migrant flows and their evolution. Usually the Interior Ministry releases data in April, but this year the release is late, Bezhanyan said. “My Russian colleagues say there’s only a big flow out of Russia, so maybe they’re cautious about that,” she said.
Seasonal migrant workers usually start arriving in Russia in March, when the weather begins to permit construction work. It is therefore still early to judge the impact of the new situation on labor migration, but Bezhanyan said the first indications are not good.
“We have already received notices that employers are having difficulty paying,” she said. One practice that employers have tried, in order to save money, is to ask workers to work off the books. “But we still advise not to accept this, because it can lead to expulsion. And if there is no contract specifying the amount of salary, they may forget to get paid. We’ve seen problems like this before.
Arsen, a construction worker (who asked that his surname not be used), has worked in Russia’s Ural region since February.
“When the ruble crashed, we talked to our foreman, because we would earn half of what we were getting before,” he said. “After two weeks they told us we could get a higher salary if we terminated our contracts and worked off the books. We did, and now we haven’t been paid for two months.
Due to international financial sanctions against Russia, transferring money to the country is also more difficult, with Russian service Zolotaya Korona now the only option for sending money to Armenia and new restrictions on how much can leave. Russia.
As a result, many regular migrants are staying home this year. “Some have found a job here and don’t complain about the salary, considering the costs in Russia. They can live in their homes in Armenia and see no reason to go to Russia,” Bezhanyan said.
So far, the Armenian government has only found an indirect way to solve the problem. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has submitted a proposal to boost the construction sector by offering subsidized loans for home renovations that include improving energy efficiency.
“Due to well-known circumstances, uncertainties have arisen regarding our citizens going to work abroad,” he said. mentioned at a cabinet meeting on April 15. “We have decided to launch a state program, within the framework of which we offer citizens the possibility of taking out subsidized loans to rebuild their apartments. […] We hope that with this we will make a significant contribution to housing, the economy, small businesses and poverty reduction.
Bezhanyan is skeptical. “It’s definitely an indirect approach,” she said. “It’s clear that these people see the danger [in staying in Russia] and they are creating a base for themselves so that they can move to Armenia, but we must take measures so that they do not return to Armenia and then leave for another country. There needs to be a more systematic approach.
This story was first published by Eurasianet.org.