This year, the number of people who left Armenia to work in Russia decreased by 20,000. The number of migrant workers leaving for Russia from Georgia has also decreased slightly. The main reason is war
"It is the first year as an adult that I have not left for khopan (seasonal work, work abroad). It's unusual, but I'm not complaining, I missed my family and now I spend more time with them", says Karen Poghosyan, 35, who has been working abroad since the age of 16.
Karen lives in one of the villages in the Shirak region of Armenia. He says that in his family there is a tradition: as soon as the man of the house turns 16, he leaves for Russia to work in construction.
“My grandfather, father, and brother also worked in Russia. Most of the population of the villages of our region leaves for Russia, we build buildings there. At first we work as simple labourers, then we become experts and become masters. I'm already a master”, Karen points out.
According to the tradition formed over the years, the group of men who go to work abroad leave for Russia every year at the end of February, with the arrival of spring, and return in December.
Karen says they are used to working non-stop for 9 months a year, collect the money, then spend 3 months with the family and leave again.
"Already in January I had decided that I would not leave. The reason was the legislative change in the Russian Federation, which I didn't like. At that time relations between Russia and Ukraine were already tense. Although I didn't think there would be a war", says the man.
At the beginning of the year, due to the tightening of the rules governing migration in Russia, many like Karen were undecided whether to leave or stay. Since then, migrants heading to Russia have had to undergo the collection of fingerprints, photographs, medical tests (negative tests for drug addiction, infectious diseases, and HIV). After passing the necessary stages, the data must be uploaded to the database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia. Health documents are issued to the migrant for a period of one year, while the fingerprint certificate is issued for a period of 10 years. The migrant has 30 days to collect all the documentation and everything is at their expense. The exam results and data are processed, after which the work and residence permit is issued. In case of non-compliance with the rules, the migrant worker can be deported for 5 years.
Karen had decided that he would not leave for Russia due to the high costs of this documentation. He had calculated that he would pay around 40,000 rubles, around 700 Euros. This was about 80% of a month's salary. Then came the sharp increase in the price of air tickets, the war, and the devaluation of the ruble. Today he works in farming. He still does not have a lot of income and he may think about working abroad again if peace returns.
A friend of Karen's, Hovhannes, who lives in the same region, instead decided to take a risk and leave. He says he calculated that the number of expatriate workers would decrease and that he assumed that the demand for specialists would increase due to the reduction in the workforce, resulting in higher wages. The calculations, however, turned out to be wrong.
"There was no salary increase. Also, the ruble depreciated massively. What's more, Armenian banks increased the percentage of foreign currency cash withdrawals. The money I had earned was no longer worth a cent. I came back and I looked for a job in Armenia, and I found it quickly. Armenia is now experiencing a construction boom. True, my salary is lower than in Russia, but if I subtract the expenses I would have in Russia, the result is exactly the same, and even more”, says Hovhannes, adding that none of those who used to go abroad every year to work with him have left for Russia this year.
“This year alone, 20,000 fewer people have left Armenia to work abroad than last year”, Armenia's Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan announced in a recent meeting with reporters, adding that, regardless, there is a demand for manpower in Armenia today, particularly in the construction sector.
Many Georgian workers also preferred not to leave for Russia this year. The reasons are the same as for the Armenian colleagues.
Kakha, 45, lives in a Georgian village on the border with Armenia. He is friends with Karen and Hovhannes. They met at work in Russia.
"I worked abroad for exactly 20 years, constructing buildings. When the war started, I didn't leave for Russia either. I still haven't found a job in Georgia with a salary equivalent to the job in Russia, but the important thing is that I am safe”, says Kakha, adding that many in his region, Akhalkalaki, usually work in Russia but, like him, preferred to stay in Georgia.
The inability to go to work abroad has caused financial problems for the family of another Georgian citizen, 60-year-old Lasha. He has worked all his life in Russia and it is now difficult for him to find a job in his homeland. In Russia he was involved in asphalting and is now trying to start a small business in his homeland in the same sector.
"I've been doing the same job for 40 years. Today it's tough. It seems like I have to start a new life, but I have no alternative. Now I go back and forth to Armenia from time to time, study the local market. I want to do business with my Armenian friends. I'm not alone: there are many, like me, who have lost their jobs. We, ordinary workers, are victims of war. We have suffered in all times", says Lasha, adding that they must resist, because every war ends.
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