New Wave of Russian Emigration is an Opportunity for the West

This image shows a sign in Russian that says, “exit.”


Vladimir Putin’s invasion in Ukraine and associated increase in Russian oppression in Russia triggered a huge wave of Russian migration, as well as a large flow of refugees fleeing Ukraine. CNBC recently reported that the original wave of emigration has been supplemented by many more people. Many are skilled professionals working in high-tech and similar fields.

Vladimir, whose surname has been removed due to the sensitive nature of the situation, is part of what he considers Russia’s “second wave” of migration following the war.This includes those who took longer to prepare to leave the country — such as people with businesses or families who wanted to let their children finish the school year before leaving….

An “first wave”, of journalists, artists and other people openly opposing Putin’s regime believed they needed to flee the country as soon as possible to avoid political persecution for breaking the Kremlin clampdown on public dissension.

“A lot of people got notices saying that they were traitors,” said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute….

However, as war continues, more Russians decide to flee.

“The way migration works is that once the flow begins and people start finding out how to do things — get a flat, apply for asylum, find a job or start a business — that prompts more people to leave. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle,” Batalova said….

The number of Russians that have fled Russia since the beginning of war is unknown. A Russian economist estimates that there are approximately 500,000 Russians living in Russia today. 200,000 as of mid-March.

That figure is likely to be far higher now, according to Batalova, as tens of thousands of Russians have relocated to Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Israel, the Baltic states and beyond….

In the tech sector alone, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 professionals left in the first month of the war, with a further 70,000 to 100,000 expected to follow soon thereafter, according to a Russian IT industry trade group.…

One of the many professions that has seen a decline in talent is tech, which was one reason for this exodus. This could be because people are tired of war and poor business conditions.

Scott Antel is an international franchise and hospitality lawyer. He spent nearly two decades in Moscow. This year, he has helped five of his friends move from Russia to Dubai. In several cases, he purchased properties sight unseen for their relocation.

Antel stated that “you’re experiencing a massive brain-drain.” His departing friends include the legal, consulting, hospitality, real estate, and other professions. “The disruption that talented people are experiencing is immense and it will continue to increase.”

This is a significant opportunity for the West. It is a good thing for the West to open our borders to Russians fleeing Putin, as well as economic and strategic reasons. It is morally wrong to exclude people fleeing oppressive regimes. We could benefit economically from the additional production and innovation that these migrants can bring, especially as they tend to be highly skilled in high-tech and science. The strategic implications of this could be to impose a “brain-drain” on Putin’s war machine as well as strengthen our hand against authoritarian nationalism in Russia or China. This was something American policymakers quickly understood during the Cold War when they opened their arms to refugees from communist nations. Other than exclusion, the risk of Russian migrants spying on Americans is very low.

If other Western nations and the US were to make their doors open, it would increase the number of migrants. Countries like Canada and the US are more likely to attract many Russians than the few options that exist. Emigrant Russians in tech and scientific fields could also be more productive in Western countries than they are in less-developed and less-developed nations.

I also discussed the issue of opening up the doors to Russian and Ukrainian refugees in earlier posts (see here, here) and how the US and Western countries are more open to people fleeing persecution and violence elsewhere. If consistency is important to you, my long history of advocating refuge for victims and oppression of war or persecution from other parts of the world has been a constant reminder of what I stand by (see this post on Chinese fleeing Covid jailbreaks).

The track record suggests that this chance will be missed by the US and the other Western nations. Many countries have been more welcoming to Ukrainian refugees since February’s Putin invasion, though more work remains. When it comes to Russians fleeing Putin, however, very little has changed.

In May, President Biden asked Congress to take the very limited step of  authorizing Russians with a master’s or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics to obtain a US visa without first getting an employer to sponsor them. This request seems to have been ignored. As in other parts of the West, Russia has many high-performing people, including those in tech. However, they don’t need or have to obtain graduate degrees. Other people could obtain them after moving to the West. This issue has also been ignored by other Western countries.

This opportunity is likely to be more attractive for the Western countries than what they have done so far. But, I don’t feel as hopeful as my heart would desire.