Gagik Eghanyan:

Return of immigrants: from desired goal to a problem

PanARMENIAN.Net - Migration has been one of the most serious issues for post-soviet states, including Armenia. In world financial crisis situation, one of the main tasks of RA Government is to show timely reaction in choosing priority directions of migration policy. RA Migration Agency Head Gagik Eghanyan shared his views on the issue in an interview to PanARMENIAN.Net.
Which are the primary directions of state policy in the sphere of migration?

Migration sphere includes many directions. ' Migration ' has broad definitions, denoting movement from one district to another, reception of visa and residence permit, naturalization of foreigners as well as work migration. A policy has been developed to cover specified migration directions, the policy that directly influences the policy of other directions. By 2004 governmental decree, primary directions of governmental policy in the sphere of migration were determined and 10 priority directions singled out. While choosing them, the government drew on the experience of developed countries, starting from frontier control and ending in the work with people asking for refuge. Government has developed goals and realization mechanisms in each of migration directions. Priority directions are changing depending on situation inside and outside the country.

What are priority directions in migration policy at the moment?

In 2004 compatriots' return was not a burning issue, yet it's on the agenda today. Two years ago we could clearly see the inflow of migrants who've left Armenia in the 90s: the situation in the country started to improve, so many of those who left thought of returning. Yet only few of them realized their wish. Back then, creation of stimulation mechanisms for people wising to return was priority direction of migration policy. To this aim the government has developed a policy of assisting the return of migrants, as well as ethnic Armenians. The implementation process was started last year from the launch of www. backtoarmenia.com website under the aegis of Back to Armenia project. The website received positive response and was a very helpful source of Armenia -related information where people could ask questions and receive efficient answers.

How will world financial crisis affect migration policy?

Migration policy priorities have changed within the last 3 months, as the spontaneous return of our compatriots is already in process. To overcome financial crisis consequences, I suggest to create mechanisms to mitigate social strain. The issue is crucial: besides citizens residing abroad some of those supposed to leave for guest work will not be going. That means around 30-40 000 people out of 60 000 will stay in the country creating additional strain for our job market. According to our agency's assessments, the number of long-term migrants (who left and were integrated in their current country of residence) comprised around 700 000 in Russia only. Lots of them have been there around 3 years, and about 30% of them 10-15 years, they are well settled and integrated in the country's society. There's a possibility for 400-450 000 people to return. The possibility can't be excluded for 30% of integrated migrants, yet their have their own households and that possibility is small. The remaining part won't be able to cover their rent and board in the absence of a stable income. Even the most optimistic forecasts show that 50-55% will be able to find jobs in changing circumstances, and the remaining part , 40-45% (around 200 000 people) will be left unemployed. Unemployment in Russia increased dramatically. Demands of Russian government that employees should give first priority to Russian citizens must also be considered. The 200 000 people in question will have to choose between Russia where they have neither job or shelter, or Armenia where they'll at least have shelter. If 400 000 people who chose to stay are added to those mentioned above, the strain on job market will be virtually overpowering.

How do we receive them and give them jobs in Armenia?

If someone in Armenia has promised to provide them with a job - they can't be believed, this is beyond the realm of fantasy. My opinion is, to mitigate the strain we must analyze the migration inflow structure. Most of migrants are villagers who have good skills in livestock farming and crop production. If we offer the villagers certain funds to help them settle down, financial crisis consequences could be eased in this sector.

Where will you seek funds to provide them with necessary facilities?

We expect assistance from international structures: IMF, OSCE, UNDP and IOM. They are interested to provide the sum which will help those arriving. As you know, 65% of immigrants are rural residents.

Moreover, we can provide recommendations and consultations. Centers in Yerevan, Shirak and Artashat were established for the purpose.

Although Russia, which hosts some 94% of Armenian immigrant flows, is experiencing hardships with employment now, there are ways to monitor vacancies for quest workers. Another job opportunity is construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi.

When will the real picture of migration flows be seen?

By the end of spring we will get data on the number of those who did not leave the country for seasonal job and those who returned. People are waiting for construction works to start. But this spring their hopes won't be justified.
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