Migrants Welcome:
Is Russia Trying To Solve Its Demographic Crisis By Attracting Foreigners?

By Kristyna Foltynova June 19, 2020

161,170. That's how many passports Russian authorities issued to foreigners between January and March this year. It's more than twice the number that the country issued during the same period in 2019. In April 2020, President Vladimir Putin also signed a dual-citizenship law that estimates suggest will attract up to 10 million new citizens. Why? Putin has made reversing Russia's demographic crisis a major priority.

Russia's population declined for more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This trend was reversed in 2009, but the population started falling again in 2018, and future prognoses are not optimistic.

Why Is Russia's Population Declining?

In 2018, Russia's fertility rate was 1.57. That rate was comparable to European countries such as Germany or Norway, and higher than some nations -- in South Korea, for example, the rate was 0.98. However, Russia was among 40 countries with the lowest fertility rates in the world in 2018. It also fell far short of the "replacement fertility rate," which is roughly 2.1 and represents the average number of children born per woman at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next, without migration.

Fertility Rates
(average number of children born to a woman, 2018 data)

The situation is not identical across Russia. In 2019, several regions with a large proportion of ethnic minorities and a lower share of ethnic Russians, such as Tyva and Chechnya, had higher fertility rates, in some cases above the replacement fertility rate.

Fertility Rates By Region

Russia also has one of the highest death rates in the world, ranking seventh according to 2020 CIA estimates. A study by The Lancet in 2014 indicated that the probability of a Russian man dying before he turns 55 is 25 percent. In 2018, every fourth death in Russia occurred before the age of 60. Factors include poor medical care and nutrition as well as lack of exercise and a high incidence – particularly among men -- of deaths due to alcohol and tobacco use, unintentional poisoning, and suicide.

Death Rates
(deaths per 1,000 people)

Another major factor in Russia's demographic calculations is migration, both into the country and out of it. In 2018, more than 90,000 Russians were granted citizenship or a residency permit in an EU country (including the United Kingdom). Also, the share of people aged 18-24 who want to leave Russia increased from 29 percent in 2009 to 53 percent in 2019.

Young Russians Who Want To Move Abroad

What Has Russia Been Doing To Stop This Trend?

Russia has been trying to boost fertility rates and reduce death rates for several years now. Special programs for families have been implemented, anti-tobacco campaigns have been organized, and raising the legal age to buy alcohol was considered. However, perhaps the most successful strategy so far has been attracting migrants, whose arrival helps Russia to compensate population losses. In fact, with more than 11 million foreign-born migrants (as of 2019), Russia is the second-most immigrated-to country in the world after the United States.

Changes In Russian Population

In 2018, however, migration didn't compensate for the losses and Russia's population fell for the first time in 10 years. The downward trend continued in 2019. This trend may have been a factor in the decision to ease citizenship laws.

In 2019, Ukrainians accounted for more than 60 percent of people getting Russian citizenship. In April and July of that year, Putin signed decrees making it easier for people in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- parts of which are controlled by Russia-backed separatists – to apply for Russian citizenship. In April 2020, Putin signed a law allowing dual Russian citizenship for foreigners in hopes of attracting up to 10 million migrants, mostly from countries with sizable Russian-speaking populations.

Origin Of People Getting A Russian Passport

According to the most pessimistic scenarios, Russia estimates that its population might drop by 12 million in the next 15 years. And even the most optimistic forecasts say that death rates will still exceed birth rates in 2035, although the gap might narrow significantly. So, Russia may depend on migrants to cover population losses no matter which scenario comes into play.