“They became as poor as the lack of demand allowed,” he said. “At the same time, the oil economy developed rapidly, keeping the demand for unskilled labor high in Russia, where employers are reluctant to pay good salaries, especially for construction and services.”
Citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan can enter without visas, but encounter three sets of daunting problems, said Anastasia Denisova, an advocate for migrants at the nongovernmental Committee for Civil Assistance.
Residency and work permits are required, but limited by quota and the difficulties of traversing a hard-to-navigate bureaucracy. A whole industry has arisen, Denisova said, selling fake documents — $375 to $450 for a residency permit, about $630 for a work permit. “Even those who try hard to get legal papers are pushed out of the legal system and made to feel like criminals,” she said.
Once they get work, employers may abuse workers and fail to pay them, leaving the migrants little recourse. Without contracts, a boss could simply say he has never seen the complainant before.
And when attacked on the street, they are quickly turned from victim to aggressor, she said. “They are easy prey,” she said, “because no one is interested in protecting them and the hate level is very high.”
One of her clients, an Uzbek in his early 30s named Anvar Yusupov, got onto a subway car with a friend recently, where they found themselves in the middle of a crowd of rowdy, taunting soccer fans. “Before they could get off, Anvar saw a knife,” Denisova said. “He picked up one of their beer bottles, broke it off and told them to stop it.”
Yusupov was charged with attacking the rowdies and faces three years in prison. “No one believes him,” she said, “and we are very anxious.”
Denisova said she is frustrated that Russia fails to recognize the migrants’ value and grant them legal status.
“People are coming in great crowds, and they are needed here,” she said. “Our skyscrapers were built with their hands. They were Soviet people, just like us.”