END OF “COMPATRIOTS”?: GOVERNMENT SAYS RUSSIAN IMMIGRATION PROGRAM UNACCEPTABLE FOR ARMENIA
By Julia Hakobyan
Society | 04.10.12 | 14:08
The controversial Russian immigration program called “Compatriots”,
under which citizens of post-Soviet republics are enabled to become
permanent residents in remote provinces of the Russian Federation,
appears to have caused concerns at the government level in Armenia.
Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said on Wednesday that the realization
of this program that effectively encourages outward migration is
unacceptable for Armenia.
“Compatriots”, which some call the Russian equivalent of the U.S.
Diversity Visa Program, or “Green Card”, was initiated following
the decree by the Russian president in 2006 with the main purpose of
settling sparsely populated Russian provinces and compensating for the
natural loss of the population in this country that has the largest
territory in the world and a population of only about 140 million.
Citizens of post-Soviet countries who speak Russian and have families
and meet some other criteria of the program sign contracts under which
they settle in one of the 38 entities of the Russian Federation. There
they get a job, a lump sum government payment (starting from $5,000),
as well as have favorable conditions for purchasing property or land
and enjoy some other benefits. The Russian government thus hopes to
replenish the country’s dwindling working-age population, a major
demographic concern for the country at present.
The program was first launched in Armenia in 2009 and quickly became
a reason for criticism leveled at the Armenian government, which,
by agreeing to become a participating country, probably had expected
to derive some use out of this enterprise in the form of remittances
wired to Armenia by migrants from abroad and seen as a major source
to reduce social tensions in the country.
Labor migration and remittances are a major component of the economy
of Armenia, where the average monthly salary amounts to $150, and the
average size of a remittance from Russia to almost $500, which on an
annual basis accounts for nearly 10 percent of the nation’s Gross
Domestic Product. Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed this
circumstance while meeting his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan
in Moscow in August.
According to various estimations, the annual amount of international
transfers to Armenia makes $1.5-2 billion.
According to the data of the Armenian Migration Service, during the
past four years the “Compatriots” program in Armenia had a total
of 26,000 applicants, of whom 1,500 have given up their Armenian
citizenship and moved to live in Russia.
According to the Russian Federal Migration Service, nearly 10 percent
of the participants who filled out questionnaires of the program in
the first quarter of this year are residents of Armenia.
Given the fact that more than a million people have already left
Armenia since the country gained independence in 1991, these figures
cannot but be viewed as alarming. Still, in the past the government
itself seemed to take it in its stride, saying that there wasn’t
any serious outflow of the population from the country. Meanwhile,
the negative balance of Armenia’s migration in 2011 made 43,820 –
a sharp rise from the 2008 figure of only 23,000.
During the question-and-answer session with government members in the
National Assembly on October 3 opposition Heritage faction lawmaker
Alexander Arzumanyan asked Prime Minister Sargsyan to comment on
the fact that the state migration service of a foreign state is
actively operating in the territory of Armenia, which results in
thousands of citizens permanently leaving the country and giving
up their citizenship against the backdrop of a generally high level
The prime minister said that the government, too, was concerned
about this problem. He said the issue had been raised at meetings
with Russian counterparts, including within the framework of the
intergovernmental commission between the two countries. Sargsyan said
that the Armenian side considered unacceptable the implementation of
such a program in its present format.
“We have expressed our clear position. It is known to the political
leadership of Russia. The ‘Compatriots’ program will no longer operate
in Armenia in this format. The activities of such an organization in
Armenia are not permissible,” said the prime minister.
Sargsyan added that the issue will be included in the agenda of
the Armenian-Russian intergovernmental commission that will meet in
Yerevan on October 12. Sargsyan said he was sure that the Russian side
understood and accepted the position of Armenia regarding the program.
Meanwhile, conditions of the program are changing to make it more
attractive to potential migrants. From September this year, a contract
with migrants is signed for an indefinite period of time, whereas
previously it was only two years (after which it could be extended).
Another major change in the program broadens the circle of relatives
considered to be “family” so they could be taken along to Russia –
another step that apparently makes it easier for people to make up
their minds to emigrate for good.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress