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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Migrants Look for Jobs Over Cups of Mint Tea

MTThree men leaving City Hall's first job fair, which aims to match migrants with the city's desperate need for workers, at an Azeri cultural center on Wednesday.
Go to Komsomolskaya Ploshchad any weekday morning and you can see a gathering of migrant laborers waiting for employees to come along and hire them for a day's work.

It's a shady arrangement with apparently little regard to an immigrant's legal status. And the phrase "Labor Code" rarely pops up in casual conversation.

But for five hours Wednesday, City Hall held its own version of this job fair, one that it boasted was a legal answer to typically underground worker markets.

Around 100 men, mostly Azeris, wandered into an Azeri cultural center Wednesday near the Tulskaya metro station in southern Moscow for the fair, the first to be organized by the city in an attempt to match migrant workers with the city's desperate need for employees. Jobs on offer Wednesday were starting at 5,000 rubles a month.

After scouring jobs ranging from welder to bus driver to cleaner, most applicants wandered out into the courtyard to drink mint tea poured from a samovar into small glasses.

Ershan Farzali, 31, said he left his wife and sick son behind in Azerbaijan to come to Russia. Even though he has a work permit, he is still looking for work after four months, he said.

Farzali said was wary of accepting any job after hearing stories from friends of employees who were promised a pile of gold for work and but not paid a kopeck. Worst of all, employers often refused to return documents.

Speaking through an interpreter, Farzali said he wanted a job that paid at least 20,000 ($770) per month.

The influx of immigrants can be seen everywhere in Moscow, as laborers from the Caucasus and Central Asia make up the workforce that cleans courtyards, drives buses and works construction in the city.

The city issues some 750,000 work permits a year for migrants from former Soviet republics, with the lion's share going to workers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Belarus. But more than double that amount are thought to be living illegally in Moscow, said Yury Lobas, an official with the City Hall committee dealing with interethnic relations.

Convincing Muscovites to do the jobs that immigrants do is near impossible. The city and city-owned companies currently have 10,000 job vacancies, alone, officials at the fair said.

"There is no prestige in it," fellow committee official Olga Lyseyenko said. "They do not want such work."

One employer from a construction company said all the Muscovite workers "want to be managers, secretaries."

"They don't want to work," he said.

The fair is an attempt to get employers to use legal workers after a new law came into effect last month banning foreigners from working at markets or in shops, leaving a surplus of migrant workers.

It also follows government attempts to ease the process by which illegal migrants can enter the system and increased fines for employers who hiring illegal immigrants.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Azeri driver Isa Narimanov speaking with a transportation official about work.
Despite the measures, city officials reluctantly admitted Wednesday that the number of illegal immigrants remains extremely high. There are between 800,000 and two million illegal immigrants in Moscow according to differing estimates, Lobas said.

Construction companies are notorious for using cheap illegal immigrant labor. Human rights group have accused them of using illegal immigrants in slave conditions.

"They live twelve to a room. It is horrible," Lobas said.

Immigrants, legal or illegal, face numerous problems on the marketplace, said Vugar Kuliyev, a lawyer who helps immigrants from his native Azerbaijan.

Immigrants should be able to get work permits from migration officials within 10 days, but it often takes up to two months -- and bribes are often involved, Kuliyev said.

By early afternoon, the center did not seem to be making much of a hole in the Moscow job gap. Most of the employers had left, and those who remained said only a few of the workers were interested in the jobs they had to offer.

Wages started at 5,000 rubles per month for a courtyard sweeper, 7,000 to 8,000 rubles for a cook, 10,000 for a carpenter and 40,000 rubles for a bus driver.

One job seeker, Isa Narimanov, was not impressed with the job as a bus driver. He said he wanted to be a chauffeur instead.