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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter May 10, 2019

Female immigration in Russia: Social risks and prevention

  • Veronika Romanenko and Olga Borodkina
From the journal Human Affairs


There is an increasing number of female migrants among the international migrants in Russia. The purpose of this study is to identify the social risks female migrants face. Statistics and data from surveys were analyzed, interviews were held with experts providing practical assistance to women and focus groups were conducted with female migrants. The employment sector in which young female migrants face the most risks and are likely to work illegally is commercial sex services. The social risks are mainly related to a lack of knowledge about the culture, their illegal status; risky behavior is also a big issue. The conclusion is that the social risks are linked to the gender asymmetry existing in the labor market and to the more vulnerable position of women with regard to sexual exploitation and trafficking.


The process of globalization and uneven economic development in various countries in the 21st century have led to greater migration around the world. Russia has one of the highest levels of international migration, yet international audiences lack information on the migration situation in Russia. In the context of global international migration, Russia is a recipient country for migration flows from CIS countries (Commonwealth of Independent States), Georgia, and some other foreign countries (for example, China, Afghanistan, India). Over the past five years natural migration growth in Russia has been positive, and ranges at around 300 thousand people (0.2% of the total population). The steady migration from CIS countries to Russia has led to structural shifts in the economy—specific sectors of migrant labor have developed and the market demand for unskilled labor has largely been met by the influx of international migrants from neighboring countries (Borodkina, Sokolov, & Tavrovskii, 2017).

Differences in female and male migration strategies first began to be observed in international research in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially in relation to gender imbalances and gender selectivity (Radcliffe, 1990), and then to the growing feminization of migration (Castles & Miller, 1993). Researchers noted that women and men used different migration strategies; for example, the percentage of return migration was lower for women than for men (Zlotnik, 1995), and different restrictions applied depending on the economic and cultural aspects of the society they belonged to in their country of origin (Chant & Radcliffe, 1992). Gender was studied as one of the dominant factors affecting migration strategies with respect to, for example, class and sexual identity (Bhachu, 1996; McDowell, 1993). In other words, by the mid-1990s, the importance of incorporating gender into the analysis of migration processes had been recognized in western sociological studies. “Studying migration from a gender perspective implies looking beyond the differences in migration behavior between men and women, such as the likelihood and type of migration, and to examine further the inequalities underlying those differences” (Ferrant & Tuccio, 2015, p. 5).

Until recently, the differences in male and female migration were not the focus of Russian research; however, at the end of the 1990s a number of research papers were published analyzing aspects of women’s migration. Since the 2000s, much attention has been paid to gender issues in migration by Russian sociologists, namely by E. V. Tyuryukanova, Z. A. Zayonchkovskaya, N. V. Mkrtchyan, D. V. Poletaev, and Y. F. Florinskaya (Florinskaya et al., 2015; Poletaev, 2005; Tyuryukanova, 2011).

The increasing proportion of women in the total number of migrants is considered characteristic of the current stage of international labor migration (Rudakova, 2012). According to statistics, in 2015 on average about 48% of the world’s migrants were women (the total number of migrants was estimated to be 244 million international migrants) (International Migration Report, 2015). Russia is no exception. The number of women entering the Russian Federation between 2012 and 2015 increased from 156 thousand to 266 thousand, accounting for 44% of the total number of migrants in 2015 and 45% in 2016 (in 2012 this figure was 37%) (Federal State Statistics Service, 2017). This trend shows that gender has to be taken into account when studying the social risks of labor migration. The situation is aggravated by the fact that in Russia women do less well economically than men. According to researchers, women make up about 60% of the “lower class” —– people with incomes equivalent to a living wage (Tikhonova, 2011)—and there is greater discrimination in the labor market against women than against men; women account for 60% of registered unemployed people (Rudakova, 2012). This paper focuses on the social risks female immigrants face in Russia (labor discrimination, sexual exploitation risk, health and education risks).

Methodology and research methods

The methodology used in the research is based on an analysis of the subjective risk assessments of migrant women and their co-workers, and on an analysis of the objective characteristics of risks (statistical data). The purpose of this research is to study the social risks young women (aged up to 35) face when immigrating to Russia. The objectives include summarizing the available state statistics and the results of a secondary analysis of sociological research identifying the main problems faced by women immigrating to Russia, and obtaining separate information on the problems identified by migrant women and their co-workers. Based on the statistical analysis and the secondary analysis of the sociological research data, the following research assumptions were formulated. (1) Most young working-age women come to Russia to improve their financial situation. (2) Young international migrant women experience double discrimination in the Russian labor market—as foreigners and as women—and are at risk of both labor and sexual exploitation. (3) Female migrants are at increased social risk due to a lack of knowledge about their rights, being unaware of health promotion practices, and limited access to social and medical services.

These assumptions were confirmed in our analysis of the focus groups of young female migrants and in-depth interviews with experts working with international migrants, women in crisis and migrant families with children in Russian cities (Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Volgograd). To improve the data reliability, the following principles were adhered to when setting up the focus groups: (1) the nationalities represented in the group reflected the main donor countries of international migration in Russia; (2) gender and age were equally represented across the groups; (3) the participants did not know each other and spoke freely and openly. In 2017 five focus groups comprising young female migrants (N=20) were conducted; the participants were young girls/women aged 10–35 years old from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The participants were recruited mainly through organizations working with migrants. In addition, 15 experts from 11 organizations were interviewed[1]. All the participants and experts gave their informed consent, and consented to the audio recording of the focus groups and interviews. The transcript-based method was used to analyze the data as it is the most rigorous method (Krueger, 1994). A content analysis was carried out in which key topics were selected and analyzed separately.

The issues discussed with the women migrants concerned the problems of adapting to life in Russia and quality of life in the host community. They included a number of important topics such as obtaining residence permits, employment and housing, gaining access to medical and social services, and securing education for their children. All the focus group participants agreed to the processing of the information for scientific purposes and received a monetary reward for participating in the discussion. In-depth interviews were held with experts on issues related to the risks facing migrant women in Russian society, methods of working with them, and the typical problems women seek help in relation to. The discussions also contained subjective assessments of Russia’s migration policy and the measures required to improve the situation of international migrants.

Research results

Socio-demographic aspects of women’s immigration in Russia

A total of 589,033 international migrants came to Russia in 2017 (speech on migrants who had been registered at place of residence for more than nine months) (Federal State Statistics Service, 2017). The majority of international migrants (89%), including women, came from the CIS countries. The growth in migration is mainly from the following countries: Ukraine (28.6% of all migrants from CIS), Kazakhstan (13.7%), Uzbekistan (12.2%), Tajikistan (12.1%), Armenia (7.9%) and Kyrgyzstan (7.8%) (Federal State Statistics Service, 2017). In total, 234,935 women entered the Russian Federation from the CIS and other countries in 2017 (256,797 women in total): 28,245 were under working age, 165,713 were of working age, and 40,977 were older than working age. Most of the women were aged 20–34 (85,890 persons or 37%). The proportion in the next age group is also significant: 55,691 female migrants (24%) were aged 35–49 (Federal State Statistics Service, 2017). The statistics confirm that the majority of women who immigrate are young women of reproductive working age.

In 2017 230,029 female migrants aged 14 and over entered Russia; 46% were married, 19% had never married, 6% were divorced, 8% were widowed, and 21% did not specify marital status (Federal State Statistics Service, 2017). Migrants to Russia from CIS countries frequently came to work with their spouse; on average one in three migrants arrived with their spouse and women were more likely to travel with their partner (more than 50%). Migrants from other countries were less likely to bring their children with them. Only about 10% of migrants brought their children, although the research data indicates about half the international migrants to Russia have children (Florinskaya et al., 2015, 69-70).

Social risks faced by female immigrants in the labor market

The reasons active members of the population of a country migrate are mainly financial, and economic motives may be gender-specific. In addition, female labor sectors are more often shaped by gender and cultural stereotypes. In Russian society (and in all post-industrial societies), over the past 20 years, services have increased significantly as a proportion of the economy. The percentage of women participating in the domestic work and social services sector had increased from 41% in 1995 to 62% in 2015 (International Labor Organization, 2016, p. 5). The expansion of the services sector, the relative openness of borders in the post-Soviet space, the spread of information technologies, and poor economic performance of a number of CIS countries have stimulated the feminization of the migration flow.

The changes in the labor market have led to structural changes in the young population migrating to Russia. The number of female migrants has increased, and their status has changed. Previously most women came with their husbands as family members, but now a significant number of women come independently.

Immigrant women are typically employed in the services industry, which is frequently considered to be of secondary importance and generally less well paid in comparison to other types of labor (Tyuryukanova, 2005). Therefor female international migrants face double segregation: ethnical and gender. As a result, female international migrants find themselves employed in the least prestigious and most informal market segments. According to the research data, there are three times more women than men in the low-paid immigrant worker group (up to $500 per month). Labor exploitation is most often manifested as the illegal withholding of wages. This is primarily a problem for migrants working without an official contract.

Here are examples from a discussion with migrant women:

I got my job through acquaintances, I sold train tickets at the railway station, but it quickly became clear that was forbidden as I could not work at a place like a railway station because I don’t have Russian citizenship and so I was fired. In Ukraine, I worked in logistics, I earned a lot. (Victoria, 29 years old, Ukraine).

At home I had a higher and therefore prestigious job, so I had enough money for me and my children. Here I work as a salesman in a store. (Alexandra, 30 years old, Ukraine).

For women, in addition to the risk of being exploited by their employer in terms of pay and working conditions, there is also the risk of sexual coercion. According to the results of a study (a survey of 442 labor migrants from different regions of Russia), almost 100% of the women employed in the entertainment industry had been forced to provide sexual services, and this was true of almost 20% (in Moscow 30%) of all women employed in retail (Tyuryukanova, 2006, p. 115).

In Russia, younger migrant women typically work in families as servants, nannies or nurses; they do unskilled work in factories and industries, in the agriculture sector, in construction—as painters, plasterers, cleaners, and so on, in the hotel and catering trade (waitresses, dishwashers, cooks, hotel room attendants, etc.), and in retail as sales staff and cashiers. They also work in the entertainment industry, including sex services.

In Russia, there is a lack of research on female employment in areas such as home workers and child and elderly care, while in the West, independent care work is part of sociology research (Anderson, 2000; Burnham & Theodore, 2012; International Labour Organization, 2013). Care is the main labour segment in which many women are employed in Russia. The main problem here is the illegal status of domestic workers.

A large number of female migrants are not employed legally and so cannot report employers violating agreements (Borodkina, Amirkhanian, & Romanenko, 2016). The private nature of the domestic services sphere and malpractices in the entertainment sector increase the vulnerability of the women working in them. According to experts, in most cases, job arrangements in the domestic sector or in the entertainment sphere are conducted through informal channels (fellow nationals, acquaintances). It should be noted that the SIGI index (gender inequality in countries) is medium to high in many of the donor countries of Russian immigration – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan (Social Institution & Gender Index, 2014). The institutionalization of gender inequalities in these countries means that many women do not fight against violations of their rights, especially if their male compatriots are complicit in the situation.

The girl was kicked out of a rented apartment, and now she has one child of five, pregnant with the second. She did not return to Tajikistan, because being a single woman with a child and pregnant with a second is a source of shame there. She decided to sell the child eventually...; After 40 interviews with workers in shops and canteens, we found a case where a woman had been raped by her employer and was pregnant. The employer was an Azerbaijani, the woman was from Uzbekistan. (From an interview with experts).

In gender-specific sectors, the risk of labour exploitation, which is the biggest danger for international migrants, may be associated with the risk of sexual exploitation.

Risk of sexual exploitation among young female immigrants

With the spread of the consumption culture and the liberalization of sexual morality, the network of sex services in Russia’s cities has become extensive. Among the various forms of sex services, prostitution is one of the most common and profitable, but also potentially harmful to the physical and mental health of young women. Those involved in prostitution in Russian cities have always been replenished by young women who have moved in from less prosperous regions of the country and from abroad. The influx of international migrants has also led to the expansion of prostitution in big cities. On the one hand, this is due to an increase in the number of economically active men coming to these cities for work, and many of them became clients of female sex workers. On the other hand, the vulnerable position of young female international migrants who do not have the social and cultural capital and sometimes the legal status to compete with the local population in the prestigious sectors of employment makes it more likely they will end up in the commercial sex industry.

According to experts, in Saint Petersburg, there are approximately 40,000 to 50,000 sex workers. With the deterioration of the economic situation and the economic crisis, more young women have become involved in prostitution, and about 40% of them are migrants.

Women employed in various services or in unskilled jobs are at risk of sexual exploitation; this is particularly the case for young women working in entertainment and leisure (Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in Russia, 2009). Since prostitution is illegal in Russia and a civil offence, migrant prostitutes are especially vulnerable and lack protection. According to experts, up to 3 million people provide sex services on the Russian sex market, 90% to 98% of whom are young women. The proportion of international migrants working in female prostitution in Russia is 40%. Experts believe that this social group consists mainly of women from the CIS countries; they also note that an increasing number of women from Ukraine and Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan and, to a lesser extent, Tajikistan) are sexually active, and the number of African women working in brothels is growing.

Young female migrants involved in prostitution experience triple discrimination and stigmatization: as women, as migrants and as sex workers. They work in the most opaque sphere of the market. They face many psychological and physiological health risks and do not have the opportunity to seek help. International migrants are afraid of disclosure of status, deportation, the type of work they do becoming known to those in their homeland.

The health risks faced by female migrants and Russian women involved in prostitution relate to violence and the risk of becoming infected with a sexually transmitted disease. It should be noted that women from Central Asian countries with certain cultural and religious traditions face higher health risks. All the experts point to the low level of sexual literacy, and compliance with client demands in matters of protection. The health risks faced by young women from Asian countries could be reduced through sex education.

They clearly have a problem with contraception and have no sex education. They do not know how to offer a condom. Most street prostitutes known to have a sexually transmitted disease are migrants (from an interview with an expert).

At the same time, many young women are attracted by the flexible working hours, provision of accommodation (frequently where they provide their services) and immediate cash payments. All the experts agree that when hiring a new female worker the organizers of sex businesses tend to conceal the work conditions. This deception means that even young women who voluntarily agree to work in prostitution Russia are less likely to reject the job. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the women themselves do not talk about how they got into prostitution, even if forced to participate in sex work. The traffickers are usually women from the home country. Many experts note that Russian legislation is not effective in tackling the exploitation and trafficking of people; the laws protecting the victims of people trafficking are insufficient.

We do not have a formal definition of ‘victim of human trafficking’. We have an article in the Criminal Code entitled ‘Human trafficking’, but it is more difficult to prove a crime than to deport an immigrant (from an interview with an expert).

This is the key reason many women do not want to tell the truth about how they got into prostitution and the conditions under which they earn money.

Health risks for young female immigrants

From 2007 to 2015, more than 11,800,000 international migrants who came to Russia for work purposes underwent a medical examination, and 72,440 persons with infectious diseases were identified. Of these 15,716 (21.6%) were HIV positive, 26,527 (36.6%) had tuberculosis and 30,197 (41.6%) had a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In 2015, more than 2.8 million labour migrants underwent a medical examination and it was revealed that 9,585 labour migrants had an infectious disease, including 3,016 (32%) with tuberculosis, 4,141 (43%) with an STI, and 2,428 (25%) who were HIV positive (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare, 2016).

An analysis of data collected by the Federal AIDS Center shows that on average the incidence of HIV infection among international migrants is 1.5 times lower than that among Russians, but it is increasing each year.

About 1,500 HIV infected foreigners were identified among those who came to the Russian Federation for various purposes and did not undergo a medical examination. According to the official data, in 2015, the largest number of HIV infected foreigners was in Moscow (374 individuals), followed by St. Petersburg (245), Krasnodar Kray (159), Ekaterinburg (84), Kaluga (76), and the Khanty-Mansiysk region (84) (HIV infection, 2015). Experts report an additional problem with HIV positive migrants—they conceal the infection out of fear of being deported to their homeland. According to one expert, “Uzbeks with HIV status or girls from the sex business have no chance of going back home. Their status will be disclosed there, and they could be killed”.

The results of a survey on the sexual behavior of female international migrants showed that almost a third were either not informed about the transmission of STIs and the HIV virus and did not know that a condom provided good protection, or they trusted their partner completely and did think about infection. Another survey among immigrants from CIS countries and visitors from various Russian regions reveals that among Russian woman the percentage of women having unprotected sex under pressure from their husband or for religious reasons was 7%, while for women with a Tajik or Uzbek husband it was 40% (Tyuryukanova, 2011, p. 80). Muslim women run more health risks than Christians; a quarter of women subscribing to Islam do not use protection for religious reasons or because of their husband’s objections.

The main health risks facing female international migrants involved in prostitution are associated with increased exposure to sexually transmitted infections. The health risks are several times higher for women from Central Asia because of the cultural and religious traditions there. All the experts confirm that among young female migrants there are low levels of sexual literacy and a high level of compliance with client demands in matters of protection; there is a strong need for sex education for young women from the Asian CIS countries. Some experts have indicated the rate of HIV infection among young women involved in prostitution is rising. They associate this with the influx of migrants with low levels of education from Central Asian countries and to the high level of competition due to the economic crisis, which means women want to keep their clients at any cost.

Experts working in the field of HIV prevention among commercial sex workers believe that many young women understand how they could become infected, but under pressure from the client or sex work organizer they cannot pursue safe sex strategies. According to experts, HIV positive migrants do not usually seek medical help as making their status public would mean deportation (in Russia, migrants are required to undergo a physical examination and have a certificate indicating they are HIV negative). Experts tend to view this measure negatively since it discriminates against HIV positive people and deprives them of the right to a legal life and job.

In terms of reproductive health, female international migrants face a whole range of problems in Russia. These are associated with a lack of funds for pregnancy monitoring. Most migrants work illegally or have a visa but only have access to very limited medical services. This means that women have to pay for all medical tests (e.g. ultrasounds). They may be entitled to a free delivery or emergency hospitalization; if a woman calls an ambulance she has the right to medical care. Therefore many pregnant international migrants consult a doctor only once childbirth has begun. In addition, according to the research data, many female migrants are not sufficiently informed about their rights and are afraid to go to the doctor believing they could be deported for being pregnant (Tyuryukanova, 2011, p. 82).

In general, international migrants prefer not to consult doctors and practice self-medication. In the interview, female migrants often repeated that they did not have the right to be ill.

We can’t be sick, we have to work. (Victoria, 29, Ukraine);

We are the healthiest! We never visit the doctor. (Kira, 32 years old, Ukraine);

Nobody is sick; there is no money for that. (Victoria, 29 years old, Ukraine);

No teeth, it’s expensive. (Alexandra, 30 years old, Ukraine);

We live in a hostel, and in the corridor there are bedbugs. The children were allergic to the bites. I rushed to the hospital, we ran to probably 4-5 offices before meeting the head doctor who barely accepted us. Generally they do not want to treat foreigners. Nobody needs problems. (Alexandra, 30 years old, Ukraine).

International migrants tend to go to the doctor’s only if their children are ill. The main reason is the cost of medical treatment. But, it can also be due to a lack of confidence in Russian doctors, as well as the feeling that “no one needs problems with migrants”.

Education risks for young female immigrants and their children

The education risks are primarily the existence of barriers to education. Female migrants come into contact with the education system more often if they have children. In Russia, children from migrant families have no major problem accessing the education system. If parents plan to stay in Russia for a long time, sending their children to kindergarten or school is the primary way of family adaptation. Even children lacking some of the necessary documents can still go to kindergarten or school. However, finding a quality education institution or one close by can be difficult.

My child was immediately sent to school... not a very good school, in terms of the education, that’s why they accepted... We could not go to the gymnasium (Victoria, 29, Ukraine).

Why don’t children always receive an education? A common reason, especially for girls, is that they look after the younger ones; they don’t have an opportunity to go to school (from an expert interview).

Children from migrant families cannot be rejected for having poor Russian language skills. It should be noted that children can learn the language quickly in a Russian-speaking community. However, experts point out that teachers and parents do not always react positively to foreign students, since they frequently have a lower level of education or language skills and therefore slow the class down.

International female migrants who come to work for a short time (or for an unknown period, as is often the case with visa-dependent work) often do not bring their children with them. Only about 10% of international migrants bring their children to Russia, while about half have children. Many women come with their spouses, leaving their children in the care of relatives in the home country; in this case, the parents do not care for the children.

Child-parent issues can arise if foreign workers violate their right to stay in Russia. For example, there are no institutions providing accommodation for children and parents awaiting deportation. As a result, families are separated, and sometimes for a long time. Since children and parents are deported separately to their homeland, the children may be left homeless for some time.


On the basis of the research data, we have identified the risk areas associated with the labour market, health, education, and social services, as well as the social problems faced by young female immigrants. On some areas, the experts and migrants emphasized different points. The experts naturally focused on the female migration problems that require solving, while the women concentrated on their own circumstances.

Expert opinions on the social risks facing female immigrants

The social risks faced by female immigrants in relation to the labour market appear to be a result, firstly, of the existing gender asymmetry and, secondly, of the greater vulnerability of women to sexual exploitation and trafficking. The patriarchal culture and female discrimination in their home countries are additional factors that increase the risk of labour and sexual exploitation. Often, women from economically deprived regions lack the skills to compete with the local population for better jobs. They are frequently unable to compete for good jobs due to their poor Russian language skills or lack of education. Consequently, in the labour market, young female migrants are subject to the same risks as male migrants insofar as labour exploitation and the violation of labour rights are concerned, but they also often become the target of sexual harassment. With regard to the risks of sexual exploitation, young women involved in the entertainment industry are particularly exposed, especially in the sphere of commercial sex. Therefore, special attention should be paid to the situation of migrant women in the commercial sex industry, which is the riskiest shadow segment of women’s employment.

Many international migrants are exposed to health risks, namely exposure to infectious diseases (including HIV and tuberculosis), and they have limited access to medical services. However, for young female migrants there are additional health risks associated with pregnancy and lack of regular medical care or sexually transmitted diseases, which is a concern for young women involved in the commercial sex trade. There is a lack of awareness among young women from Central Asian countries about health care behavior patterns, as a consequence of taboos related to sex and women’s health.

The number of young female migrants coming to Russia with children is increasing. Migrant families with children are particularly in need of social support. At the present time, there are not enough social institutions providing the necessary social services for migrant families with children. As a result, young women and children cannot receive the education or assistance they need. In school, migrant children sometimes have problems due to poor language skills and general education level, which may be lower than the local level.

Female migrant opinions on social risks

For female migrants the social risks in the labour market related mainly to barriers to getting documents authorizing labour activity as well as residence permits. The women also felt there was job discrimination. Even those who had a good job in their homeland, do not always get a position corresponding to their qualifications. Generally, the women were employed in low-skilled work. As the respondents mentioned, migrants have no time to look for a proper job, since they need to urgently resolve their financial problems.

In the public health sphere women complained about discrimination. They also talked about the lack of time for health checks and treatment, because they needed to work a lot, as well as the high cost of medical treatment, for example, dental care. But there was little concern about infectious diseases, which was one of the main concerns expressed by the experts.

Education is not a big issue for women either. In general, the migrants believed that arranging school education for their children did not cause many problems, and did not consider Russian important. However, families do not always have the opportunity to find a school or a kindergarten close to where they live or work and therefore frequently have to leave the younger children at home in the care of older children. It is normal practice for young girls to look after younger family members instead of studying.

Migrants do not expect social support from authorities. They frequently support each other in everyday life, communicate via social networks, and consider family and diasporas as key social resources.

Limitations and strengths of the research

It should be noted that the study has a few limitations. Firstly, in Russia international migrants are a closed and hard-to-reach group. Their interactions are mostly limited to communication at work and within their own communities. In fact, it is only through the assistance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work with migrants that researchers have an opportunity to involve female migrants in research. Secondly, we interacted only with women who were staying legally in Russia. Contact between illegal migrants and social workers or interviewers is difficult because these migrants fear being deported from Russia. Thirdly, the focus groups were conducted in Russian, so only Russian speaking women took part in the focus groups. These limitations affect the results of the study. The research strengths are the mixed qualitative approach used involving focus groups and in-depth interviews with experts. We were able to identify and reflect upon the opinions the migrants expressed in the focus groups, and we obtained the professional views and local community opinions from our interviews with experts. It is also important that the experts were from both state and non-governmental organizations providing various legal, social and medical services to international migrants, particularly women. Thus, despite the research limitations, we obtained a clear picture that it is crucial to prevent the social risks associated with female migration in Russia.


Preventing the social risks faced by female migrants is a much discussed topic. There is strong public support for the strict regulation and reduction of international migration. At the same time, the experiences of Russia and other countries demonstrate that prohibitive measures, as a rule, lead to an increase in illegal migration. We believe that measures to help migrants deal with the social risks should begin in the country of departure; potential migrants need to be prepared and informed about migration. Certainly, the receiving country should not leave people in need without social support. Therefore, it is important to provide access to social and medical care for international migrants.

The various risks young women migrants face could be tackled by encouraging community initiatives and non-governmental organizations to provide assistance to women, by organizing temporary crisis accommodation for women in need, expanding access to medical services and education and by providing information to migrants (including in the context of combating violence, risky sexual behaviors and rights protection).


At present, the feminization of migratory flows and an increase in the proportion of women among labour migrants can be seen throughout the world. More than a third of female newcomers are young women, aged 20–34 years old. On the one hand, young women are more flexible and adapt faster than older cohorts, but, on the other hand, they lack sufficient life experience and cultural and social capital, which can place young women at increased social risk. In general, these risks can be divided into individual risks (education, skills, income level, patterns of behavior, psychological characteristics, etc.) and societal risks, which are determined by structural factors (social institutions). The individual risk factors include a lack of Russian language skills, awareness of the law, education and work qualifications, as well as problems such as poverty, difficult family situations and health problems. Societal or structural risks are related to the social context in Russia: to migration policy, migration law, public opinion on international migrants, and so on. Strategies for social risk prevention should take these factors into account as a whole.

Structural risk factors can exacerbate the individual risks faced by female migrants; these issues require further study and reflection. The structural risks include illegal service markets (for example, in sex services), the shadow economy (including domestic work), illegal migration, the lack of an effective system for combatting human exploitation and trafficking, limited social protection and medical care for vulnerable groups of immigrants, gender discrimination, unemployment, the lack of alternatives to low-skilled work for female migrants and gender inequity in the labour market. Russia should introduce legislative changes regarding the regulation of international migrations and the practical implementation of human rights law.

Establishing an effective state system of action against human trafficking could be an important step towards reducing the structural risks of women’s migration. Preventive measures, the protection and rehabilitation of trafficking victims, regulation of the illegal labour market in, for example, domestic work and leisure should be developed as part of this system.

At the same time, the majority of young female migrants have the ability to adapt to the new social situation. The experts pointed out that that women, as a rule, are more actively integrated into the host society than men and that it is mainly women who interact with social organizations and who carry out the various social activities of migrants (even where men and women share the work load). In migrant families, it is also the women who communicate with school and medical staff, attend school meetings and organize mutual assistance.

The studies conducted among young international migrants demonstrate that, unfortunately, at the present time in Russia, there are only a few non-governmental organizations providing assistance to young women and migrants, and obviously this is not enough. It is necessary to develop special social risk prevention programs targeted at young female migrants in the areas of labor, health and leisure. The development of a social center for families of migrants with children that would allow women to receive the necessary social support and assistance, and contribute to their social integration should be a crucial part of migration policy.


The research was conducted at Saint Petersburg University and supported by Russian Science Foundation, Project No 16-18-10092 “Social risks of the international youth migration in contemporary Russia”.


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Published Online: 2019-05-10
Published in Print: 2019-04-25

© 2019 Institute for Research in Social Communication, Slovak Academy of Sciences

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