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A Russian regional governor responded to social unrest by banning migrant workers from taking certain jobs. Was his order legal?

Meduza
Mikhail Metsel / TASS / Vida Press

Aisen Nikolaev, the governor of Yakutia, has banned migrant workers from being employed in a range of 33 different industries in the course of 2019. Nikolaev signed the executive order after a Kyrgyz citizen was charged in a recent rape case, sparking a series of anti-migrant protests in the republic’s capital city of Yakutsk.

Pavel Chikov, a lawyer working for the nonprofit human rights organization Agora, announced that he would challenge the constitutionality of Nikolaev’s order if he could find a migrant worker who had been personally affected by it. The chief vice chair of the State Duma’s Committee on State Building and Legislation, Mikhail Yemelyanov, also said the order seemed “at first glance” to be illegal.

Actually, Nikolaev’s order was absolutely legal.

In his order, the governor of Yakutia referenced a federal legal norm that is written into Russia’s statute “On the Rights of Foreign Citizens.” The statute allows regional leaders to prohibit migrants from taking part in certain kinds of economy activity on a yearly basis if those migrants hold a temporary worker’s permit called a patent. The prohibition does not apply to highly trained specialists who do not need a patent in order to work in Russia.

Many of the country’s regions have similar prohibitions. In fact, Yakutia’s governor introduces one every year. This year’s order has been a topic of discussion since January. However, the document Nikolaev’s government issued in March differs fundamentally from that original prohibition:

  • The newest ban lists particular jobs within the “Manufacturing” category, adds a new prohibited category called “Professional, scholarly, and technical activity,” and includes the profession of “chef de cuisine.”
  • An exception for residents of exceptionally well-developed regions and another for participants in regional investment projects have disappeared from the order.
  • The new order permits migrants to work in the freight rail industry and in pipeline-facilitated transport (e.g. at compressors or distribution stations).

In addition, comparing Nikolaev’s latest order with the equivalent prohibition from 2018 demonstrates that migrants have only now been permitted to take any position they choose within the mining industry.

The prohibition does not affect migrants from Kyrgyzstan.

Along with highly trained specialists, prohibitions like Nikolaev’s cannot affect citizens of the Eurasian Economic Union’s constituent nations: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Workers from those countries can become employed in Russia without a patent, which prevents governors from limiting the professions they can choose.

Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Hilah Kohen