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Tough Migration Rules Enter Force in Russia
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New legislation tightening government control of migration came into force in Russia Monday, prompting concerns about a crackdown among the millions of illegal workers.

The rules ease stringent procedures for citizens of most former Soviet republics who enter Russia from January 15 to obtain work permits.

But authorities are carrying out strict checks of the estimated 10-12 million foreigners who are already working in Russia, most of them illegally. Employers who have staff without proper documents face fines of up to 800,000 rubles (US$30,100).

In the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, which lies on the Chinese border, Chinese market vendors have been packing up their unsold goods and heading back home. One clothes trader, Li Chen Tsza, said he had marked down his prices by 50 percent to get rid of his inventory.

"They told us that from New Year's, we won't be able to sell our goods here anymore," he said in televised comments.

A government decree that took effect January 1 restricted the number of non-Russians in the retail trade outside stores to 40 percent and to zero from April 1.

Outdoor markets and bazaars in Russia, popular because of their low prices, are staffed heavily by migrants from former Soviet republics, many of whom lack official permission to live or work. Most work long hours for meager salaries.

The issue of immigration has become a lightning rod for President Vladimir Putin's government amid rising popular resentment of migrants in particular, dark-skinned workers from former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Racist attacks and hate crimes are on the rise, and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration a far-right, grass roots political organization has exploded in popularity in recent months.

Critics said the authorities' moves against migrants would only encourage xenophobic sentiments already on the rise in Russia, fuel inflation and accelerate the nation's population decline.

Russia's population is dropping by about 700,000 a year and has fallen below 143 million, a demographic crisis blamed on the economic turmoil that followed the Soviet collapse. The population decline would be even more catastrophic were it not for immigration.

(China Daily via agencies January 16, 2007)

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