Prominent sociologist Jack Goldstone, organizer of the first-ever international conference on political demography in Moscow, explains why Russia and the U.S. should be concerned with issues like immigration and population growth.

Chinese migrants showing their registration in Russia's Far East. Source: RIA Novosti / Vitaly Ankov

As issues like immigration and population growth continue to attract attention both in Russia and the U.S., researchers are starting to take seriously their impact on both domestic and foreign policy. On Dec. 13-14, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), together with the Research Laboratory on Political Demography and Social Macro-Dynamics (PDSM), will host the first-ever international conference on political demography in Moscow.

Ahead of the conference, Russia Direct interviewed Jack Goldstone, the Director of PDSM and a professor at George Mason University, as well as other participant of the conference Andrey Korotayev of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Why should Russia and the U.S. be concerned with immigration? What common risks and challenges does immigration pose for them? Why should policy makers in Moscow and Washington start to take Africa more seriously? Find out below.

Russia Direct: Could you describe the conference’s agenda in a nutshell?

Jack Goldstone: The conference is an event to launch the first research presentation of the new Research Laboratory on Political Demography and Social Macro-Dynamics (PDSM). The laboratory just started this fall under the guidance of Vladimir Mau, rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), who asked me to be the PDMS director.

The issues that the laboratory will examine include how population is changing in different regions of the world and what policies governments are using to help shape the direction of their population. This includes not only efforts to influence the size of the population, but also urbanization, education, the gender balance, migration, and ethnic groups. All of these issues are very political and are closely related to the topic of political demography.

This week’s conference has two main themes. First, what is happening to the population in Russia and what, if anything, can be done about it? As you know, the population in Russia is set to decline and this is a concern of policy makers with regard to Russia’s economy. And, secondly, what is happening to populations outside of Russia - in Europe, in China - and what will the effect of those changes be for the economy, international security and international relationships?

RD: Why it is important for Russian and U.S. politicians and decision makers?

J.G.: There are several realities now facing Russian and American politicians and policy makers. In America, there is concern that the population is getting older and a question of whether or not immigration will continue to be a big factor in the growth of America or not. And, if immigration is going to be a big factor, where will the immigrants come from because population growth is slowing down in Mexico, which was a major center [of population growth] before? So America is now looking the rest of the world, at Africa, at Asia, and trying to adjust to a future in which America will be an even more mixed international society.

Russia has the opposite problem: If America is trying to figure out how to deal with society that is going to be a changing mix, Russia simply wants to remain powerful in its character, but it is losing population very quickly. Partly this is because people continue to die young in Russia, much younger than is normal for countries of Russia’s level of development, and partly it’s because the level of fertility and birth fell catastrophically in the 1990s after the end of the Soviet Union. And although it has recovered somewhat, it remains a major concern about whether fertility can be restored to higher levels to prevent future population decline.

And, of course, Russian policy makers are very interested in what it has been effective in other countries that try to improve fertility. There is also an interest in European population policy and in China: What will be the consequences of China’s one-child policy, was that a good policy or bad policy? Will it strengthen China in the future or weaken it? [China’s leader Xi Jingping may ease this police as indicated from the Chinese Communist party’s third plenum that took place in November – Editor’s note]. So, there are lots of issues that are important for policy makers.

RD: What are the short-term and long-term goals of the conference? Could you be more specific?

J.G.: There are two things: one is we want to make students, scholars and policymakers in Russia aware of just how rapidly population is changing around the world. There have been big changes in the population estimates for Africa, for the United States, for Europe, for Russia, for China. And if people think that all things are changing slowly, not much will happen, we know how things kind of are – that’s wrong. There is a lot of new information that is coming which we want to share. And the second issue is, we have some suggestions, some advice, that my colleagues and I have developed to give Russia’s policy makers about what, we think, has been effective in Russian government policy and what is important to continue.    

RD: In what fields of demography and macro-dynamics can the U.S. and Russia collaborate?

J.G.: Well, in research we are already collaborating. The conference is bringing people from Europe, Russia, and America who will be working together on research. In policy, we hope that there will be collaboration between Russia and America in providing support for education and family planning in Africa, and we would like to see support for state-of the-art public health measures in Russia that could be adopted on American and European models, particularly, for care of chronic heart diseases and other major killers of working-age men.    

RD: What are the major risks of high immigration in Russia and the United States?

Immigration is going to be one of the key issues in U.S.-Russia relations. Photo: Photoshot / Vostock Photo

J.G.: I think that the major risk is that the immigration will not be high enough because both countries are aging and need more young workers. But the big risk that most policy makers are concerned about is cultural conflict; that is, whether immigrants will fit in when they move to the United States or to Russia.

In America, there is concern about whether people fit in with regard to language. Most of the immigrants to America are Christians from Latin America, so there is not a big concern about religion.

In Russia, many of the immigrants will be from Muslim regions and so, there is more of concern about religion even though many of the immigrants coming from former Soviet regions are able to speak Russian or function in it. So, the differences are quite remarkable, cultural differences are on a different dimension, but in both cases, any difference seems to worry people.

RD: To what extent is immigration legislation in both countries favorable?

J.G.: Right now, it is not very favorable. Or it is favorable to the wrong kinds of immigrants. So, for example, in the United States, the current immigration policy is aimed at helping family members of people who already live in the United States but who have family outside. It’s not very favorable for skilled workers from countries that do not have a lot of their people already living in the United States.

In Russia, you have easy entry for people from the former Soviet Union and they can get visa entry where they can stay and it makes it easier for them. But it is much harder for people, let’s say, from Southeast Asia, or from Latin America, or even from Europe, to come to Russia. But, in fact, Russia really needs a more diverse global pool to draw immigrants. It will not get immigrants if it says, “We are really only interested in those from Central Asia…”

RD: … Which means that we should amend the legislation.

J.G.: We are proposing that the legislation be amended in both countries to create a more economically sensible immigration system.

Andrey Korotyaev.: Actually, Russian migration legislation in its present form attracts a lot of complaints of migrants from Central Asia. There is a very simple way to make immigration to Russia better - protect the rights of migrant workers because now they live in poor accommodation conditions, there are huge problems in health care. As soon as you protect the right of migrants in provisions of reasonable accommodation and health care coverage, this immediately raises the price of migrant labor and, of course, it will encourage them to be more skilled. But this problem is complex and should be discussed thoroughly. We are just in the process.

J.G.: I would say that right now the Russian migration system operates at the extremes. You have people like myself who are very highly-paid and highly-skilled immigrants who have been asked to come to Russia for executive or scientific purposes and people will come for a very few years and then go back home after having made some contribution. There are also large numbers of very low-skilled immigrants who work in very poor conditions.

But what Russia really needs are middle-skilled immigrants who will take jobs, settle, bring families, raise their children, and contribute to the economy and the population of Russia for the future. And right now there is not very much opportunity or protection for immigrants of that level of skill.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. and Russia will be able to collaborate in providing humanitarian aid to Africa. Photo: Getty Images / Fotobank

RD: For the U.S. and Russia, what are the implications of population growth in different countries like China, India and African states?

J.G.: The biggest implication for Russia is that Russia’s status as a great power will be diminished by the growth of population everywhere, in other places of the world. So, many countries of Africa will start to approach the same size of Russia in a few years and if Russia’s economy shrinks with its population, then the total economy of Russia may not be much bigger than that of our friends in the United Kingdom in a few years. In other words, Russia is becoming a middle-sized power equivalent to a large European country. It’s no longer a mega-power equal to Europe as a whole or to the United States, or to China.

This affects the U.S. too, but not to the same degree: The United States is not only the richest country in the world, but also it will remain the third (or fourth largest) country in the world in population for some time. The question for America is where are the immigrants going to come from, and I think that, because of changing global population patterns, we will see more immigrants from South Asia and Africa, and not as many from Mexico and South America as there were in the past.

For everyone in the world, they should pay more attention to Africa because Africa has a billion young people, they represent the biggest single addition to the labor force globally of any region in the world, more than China, more than India. And the question for the world is whether Africa’s labor force will become productive and contribute to global prosperity or whether they will be an angry and frustrated generation that feels left behind and starts to engage in religious and political radicalism, or terrorism.