United Russia members have submitted a bill to the State Duma calling for language tests for foreigners wanting to receive work permits for Russia.
The bill’s authors say that working migrants’ lack of Russian “leads to tensions in society and creates a potential threat to interethnic harmony,”.
The proposed changes, submitted by State Duma first deputy-speaker Oleg Morozov,chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation, Vladimir Pligin, head of the Education Committee, Grigory Balykhin, and deputy Nikolai Bulayevo, would not apply to all foreigners seeking work permits, however.
Only those applying to work in retail, housing and public utilities and the services industries would be required to provide documentation confirming their Russian language skills.
The bill calls for foreign workers in these fields to have “at least an elementary” level of Russian. Acceptable documentation would be a high school certificate issued in the USSR prior to September, 1991 or similar education documentation issued in Russia after 1991.
Those without a formal Russian education would be required to sit an exam at special testing centers located in higher education institutes.
Pligin told that testing centers may also be established in those countries which provide large numbers of migrant workers. Sitting a Russian-language exam currently costs 3,000-6,000 rubles.
The head of the Federal Migration Service’s department to facilitate integration, Tatyana Bazhan, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta in September that 20 percent of migrants from Central Asia did not speak Russian and that 50 percent could not fill out a simple form.
Bazhan said that migrants’ lack of Russian skills played into the hands of unscrupulous employers, allowing migrants to “practically be lead into a system of slave labor and sold to unconscientious employers,”.
In 2007, a similar bill was submitted to parliament by A Just Russia. The bill called for employers to pay for migrants’ testing, however, and bill failed to pass.
“At the time the organizational conditions were not at the right level, now it is a different matter,” Pligin told.
Migration and the Law informational rights center head Gavkhar Dzhurayeva did not agree that the new legislation was necessary.
“Compulsory Russian-language knowledge is necessary when you apply for Russian citizenship,” quoted Dzhurayeva as saying. “As for migrants involved with physical heavy labor, they don’t have time to go to language courses and if the law is accepted it will create a new basis for corruption. One more certificate that you can buy will be added to the list.”
Meanwhile, Moscow’s new culture department head Sergei Kapkov was taking a different approach to helping migrants integrate. The Museums for Migrants program is to be launched next year.
The program, run in conjunction with the Federal Migration Service, will take working migrants to the city’s museums, with the aim of educating migrants in the cultural values of Moscow.
“We are trying to catch up with the [migration] process that is already taking place and which is at its beginning stages. It is a very difficult stage, but we need to move towards one another,”Kapkov said.