Nigerian Labour Migrants in Russia:Socio-Economic Integration Standpoint of Labour Migration


List of Abbreviations

ICESTC - Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation

NBS – National Bureau of Statistics

CIS – Commonwealth of Independent States

BEA – Bilateral Education Agreement

NIDO – Nigerians in Diaspora Organization

IOM – International Organization for Migration

USSR -Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


Migration whether internal or international is often in a triad; personal motives which could be for health, education, work or vacation etc. The second in the triad is the forced movement (crisis either natural such as flood, earthquake; religious, political or ethnic conflicts etc.); and the third is beingchannelled towards achieving institutional objectives such as plenipotentiaries. In thistriad, one must be the purposeof migration. Personal reasons along with forced migration have often dominated the core intent for migrating, while institutional objectives are mostly associated withpolicymakers. The increased dimensions of migration are predominantly due to the search for employment opportunities, escape from predicaments, poverty and political subjugation in Europe and other parts of the world (Adedokun, 2003).

Nigerian immigrants coming to the Soviet Union were only coming for the purpose of education and after the completion of their studies; they go back to their home country. The disintegration of the Soviet Union brought about a change in the migratory movement of immigrants coming to Russia. Immigrants now come for the purpose of reuniting with their family, to work and study. As one of the officials at the Nigerian Embassy in Russia stated,“… people who come to the USSR are either students or government representatives.” However, the break of the Soviet Union allowed migrants for different reasons to come into Russia which makes the society become multicultural(Blokland & Eijk, 2009) which is hitherto a strange phenomenon to the country and also among its people. This could, therefore, expose the immigrants to different challenges in adapting to the host society (Iversen, Sveaass, & Morken, 2012).

The push and pull factors which according to Ravenstein law of migration is the call forlabour is one of the major reasons for the upsurge in migration (Ravenstein, 1885). Not denying this proposition by Ravenstein citing the role of the push factors which for the labour migrants, it is the need to have an improved standard of living that is the most influential factor which drives migrants out of their countries, it suffices me to say that current issues around migration do not allow for a generalization of theories but a holistic and individual studies of countries (both the receiving and the sending countries) would provide a better understanding of the theories.

This study will make an emphasis onlabour migrant from Nigeria inRussia and their participation in thelabour market in the Russian economy using empirical information toanalyse the role of socioeconomic integration as a major contributor that influences the decision of the migrants. The impact of this study is that it will emphasize the relevance of socioeconomic integration as a major determinant that influences the decision of migrants on country of destination.

Research Problem

This researchis titledNigerian Labour Migrants in Russia:Socio-Economic Integration Standpoint of Labour Migration”. Migration is a global issue and it is my view that conducting empirical studies would allow a better understanding of the phenomenon. Also, there is no working integration policy in Russia and trying to understand the pattern of integration of one of the smallest group of migrants in Russia is the central point of this research. This research, therefore, tries to find out a major factor that influences the decision of migrants who are on a search for improved living standard and also the institution through which the migrants are integrated. In this light, a study about the life of Nigerians living and working in Russia are studied.


The central point of this research is to find the thin line between the push and pull factors oflabour migrants. The research tries to find out why the Nigerians that are working in Russia decide to choose Russia as their country of destination and therefore tries to check if the assertions that “People with blackcolour (Nigerians inclusive) are raciallyabused and are victims of discrimination” truly exist. Also, this research tries to find out the extent (using language, accommodation, education,and employability as measurements) to which Nigerians that are working in Russia are integrated into the social and economic spheres in Russia. To carry out these objectives, the research uses a micro level analysis with particular reference on Nigerianlabour migrants living in Moscow.

Research Questions

To be able to solve the research problem, this research tries to find answers to some research questions which would aid the research topic.


I hypothesize that the level of integration enjoyed bylabour migrants in both the social and economic aspects of the host country is a major factor that influences the decisions oflabour migration.

Theoretical Framework

This research adopts the conceptual framework developed by Ager and Strang which helps to shape the understanding of the concept of integration that has been given a wide recognition among scholars. The development of the framework helps to put together and explain the various attempts that have been put forward to define and measure the concept of integration. However, the goal of the framework is to identify potential indicators that determine the level of migrants’ integration in the host country. The framework covers aspects such as access to employment, housing, education,and health; citizenship and rights; roles of social links and connections; language barrier(Ager & Strang, 2008). This framework isanalysed in the diagram below.


Markers and Means

These are activity areas that determine successes and failures of integration. These indicators are also identified by the United Nations Geneva Convention of 1951 which tries to measure refugee’s rights in terms of employment, housing, social welfare and education(UN, 1951). The markers and means are potentialsthat help to support the integration process of immigrants.

Social Connections

This explains the roles played by the migrants’ networks in fostering immigrants’ integration in the new society. Using the social capital theory whichemphasises on shared norms, values among and within groups, he divided social connections among immigrants into three different parts:


The Knowledge of the language of the host society is a catalyst to immigrants’ integration. This does not only make the migrants understand the local people of the new society, it also increases their chances of economic integration. Able to communicate in the society’s language also serves as security. Two areas were identified to serve as a major hindrance to the immigrants’ participation in the new society they find themselves.


The framework proposed byAger and Strang covers ten major indicators which give a better understanding of the concept of integration. This framework is however categorised into two byChristian and Tommaso aseconomic andnon-economic factors (Dustmann & Frattini, The socio-economic integration of migrants., 2011). For this research, I used the classification ofChristian and Tommaso’seconomic andnon-economic factors and explained the domains highlighted byAger and Strang with particular emphasis on employment, education, housing, social connections (social bonds and social bridges), and language.


Background of the Study and Literature Review

Migratory History of Nigerians

Migration is an ambiguous term which makes its definition varies across diverse views among scholars. In simple words, migration involves the movement of people initially dwelling in one part of the country or from one country to another part of the country or to a different country (IOM, 2011). It is, however, an intricate and multifaceted process which involves different intents but havingfar-reaching impacts on the individual, the country or place of origin and the country or place of destination (Uche C. & IOM, 2016). According to the United Nations, an international migrant is any person who changes the country of his or her original residence. Therefore, international migration could be explained as themovement of people owing to different factors such as economic rationale, family unification or refugees. It should be known that migration data and information for countries vary in their reliability and comprehensiveness but for this research, migration data of Nigerians are garnered basically from the databases of IOM and the World Bank.

Nigeria, being the demographic giant in Africa, migration has over time shaped her history, culture and political development. Being the most populous Black nation in the world with a population of about 186 million out of which 45% are less than 15 years and 3% aged 65 and above, shows that migration tends to particularlyfavour the young and active population (World Bank, 2017). Also, the population growth rate has been put at 2.6% which is relatively high (World Bank, 2015) and having an unemployment rate which was as at 2014, 7.8%, hasincreased to 14.2% by the third quarter of 2016 (NBS, 2018). These factors would by no means influence the desire of many Nigerians to seek for alternative measures elsewhere whichhave led to the increase in the number of Nigerian migrants. With the growing trend of unemployment in the country, this has led to the growth of poverty.In a means of trying to escape living in the quagmire of poverty, people tend to look for fortune elsewhere (Mberu & Pongou, 2010).

The migratory history of Nigeria can be viewed from the dispensations experienced in the country: pre-colonial, colonial,and post-colonial (Adejumoke, Godwin, & Olumuyiwa, 2008). In the pre-colonial period, it should be mentioned that there was no country called Nigeria but different empires and kingdoms, but there has been human mobility and migration in the different empires and kingdoms. Such mobilityincludesnewly found settlements, slave raiding and trading activities, pilgrimage tradition, and war (Adejumoke, Godwin, & Olumuyiwa, 2008). The colonial periodwitnesses the amalgamation of the different kingdoms and empires together to form thecountry called Nigeria. During this period both internal and international migrations occurred simultaneously. Most Nigerian migrated to the United Kingdom to continue their higher education. This is also a trend which continued after independence (Haas, 2006). Thepost-colonial or post-independence era saw a continued movement of people both internally andinternationally. Nigeria became a destination country for most of her West African neighbours because of the riches and opportunities owing to a buoyant economy and a good standard of living due to the discovery of oil but however, owing to the fall in the price of oil at the international market, and the dependence on oil as the chief export, the country experienced a backlash as there was an increase in poverty and most people saw emigration as the best option to escape such predicament (Adejumoke, Godwin, & Olumuyiwa, 2008).

Nigeria has been both the sending and receiving country of migrants in Africa and particularly, within the West Africa sub-region (Adepoju, 2004).  The role Nigeria plays in the migration system in Africa cannot be ignored; as a destination, transit and source country. This role is characterizedby both positive and negative patterns of migration (Haas, 2006) with violent extremism as the chief driver for displacement and migration (IOM, 2018). Nigeria is one of the countries with large numbers of emigrants(Dilip, et al., 2011) with an estimated figure as at 2013 relating to the stock of emigrants of 1,030,322 (IOM, 2016). According to the report, as at 2013, 35.6percent of Nigerian emigrants live within the shores of the African continent; 34.2 in Europe and 26.4percent in America basically, the North America and the rest in other parts of the world such as Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania (IOM, 2016).The ten most preferred counties of destination for Nigerians migrants include the United States, United Kingdom, Cameroon, Ghana, Italy, Benin Republic, Ivory Coast, Canada, Togo, Spain, Germany, United Arab Emirate, Ireland, Niger and South Africa (Pew Research Center, 2016). The two main destination countries for Nigerians are the United States and the United Kingdom (I-MAP, 2011) which is due to the presence of various opportunities opened to them with respect to job opportunities, education and training, and socio-cultural identification compared to other countries.

In 2013, the total number of Nigerian migrants in Eastern Europe was3,166 (Uche C. & IOM, 2016). Most Nigerians who migrate to Russia are there basically to continue their education or as a representative of the Nigerian government at the embassy but however, the year 2011 marked a change in the number of Nigerian migrants coming to Russia. There was a consistent increase in the number of Nigerians migrating toRussia until 2017. The official statistics of the Russian Statistics Department 2018 shows that there are is a decrease in the number of Nigerians who arrived in Russia in 2017 compared to the year before. The report shows that about 405Nigerians migrated to Russia in 2017(ROSSTAT, 2018). In understanding the migratory strategies of Nigerians, the exogenous and endogenous factors have to be considered. Particularly, for Nigerian migrants who made Russia their destination country, these two factors cannot be studied in isolation. The exogenous factorsexplain economic differentials, internal stability/political disorder, international security, and global networks of communication and transportation as the determining factors that influence migrants’ decision to migrate. While the latter, endogenous factors, relates to the personal decision-making process of migrants which form their desire and perception of potential places of destination and social- networks that influence the migration streams (Mabogunje, 1970).

Fig. 1:Number of Nigerians who arrive in Russia (1997-2017)

Source: ROSSTAT, 2018

The Place of Russia

Although Russia did not colonize any African country, there has long been a history of interaction that Russia shares with Africa. Such interactions include meetings in Holy Pilgrimages both of the Christian and Muslims to the Holy lands (Alexandra & Shubin, 2013). Also, before the revolution in Russia, the country established a consular office in Cairo (Egypt), Ethiopia and the South African Republic (then called the Transvaal) which has helped to maintain a steady relationship with the countries before their independence andafterward. However, these contacts continued to spread to other African countries in the 1960s as many African countries began to gain independence (Alexandra & Shubin, 2013). In the periods of the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet Union had become a very important partner to Africa with particular emphasis in the struggle against thecolonial administration and apartheid rule. Though the communist ideology of the Soviet Union was not shared by most of the national leaders in Africa, the Soviet Union had a great contribution to the collapse of foreign domination in Africa (Obasekola, 2011). Russia played a significant role in ensuring that the Declaration of Granting Independence to colonies was signed.  By the 1980s, Russia already had abilateral agreement inthe economic,cultural and other fields with a lot of African countries in a quest to fostering development. Also, so many African students were given scholarships to study in Russia (principally, in the former USSR) and at the completion of their studies, they go back to their countries and implement a developmental programme (Alexandra & Shubin, 2013). Until the 1980s, the image of Africans as seen by Russians were people fighting against the dominance of imperialism and economic retardation but after the period of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, Africans have often been portrayed as emblems of hopeless savagery and stupidity which implies that helping Africans is a waste of time and resources (Bondarenko, Demintseva, Usacheva, & Zelenova, 2014). This was the perception Russians had towards Africans and some sections of the media as also helped in strengtheningthese stereotypical perceptions.

Nigeria-USSR Relations

The opening of the Russian Embassy in Nigeria in 1961 marked the diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the USSR. This feat was reciprocated by the Nigerian government in 1962 (Waliyullahi, 2016). Like most other African countries, from the period of their independence to the break of the SovietUnion, practiced the “non-alignment policy” due to the heightened tension existing between the West and the East(Ogunbadejo, 1988). The political leaders in Nigeria during this international melee were pro-West and were reluctant to accepting aids from the USSR (Waliyullahi, 2016) but the civil war in Nigeria which almost plunge the country into a state of anarchy and disintegration tilted her to the East when the USSR became the major arms supplier for the federal government of Nigeria (Ogunbadejo, 1988) when Nigeria’s traditional allies (USA and UK) were reluctant to support the course of the Nigerian government by granting her request for the supply of arms (Edgar, 2014).

The relationship that existed between Nigeria and the USSR during this period was described as ranging from being “cold to lukewarm” (Onafowokan, 2010) but with the civil war, the USSR became the arms ally for Nigeria which had a great impact in ending the civil war. This,however, opened the windows of opportunities that played out between the two countries in the security, political, economic and socio-cultural spheres (Edgar, 2014).

With a renewed trust between the Nigerian government and the USSR, many joint documents were signed which include Agreements such as: air communication (1967), economic, scientific and technical cooperation (1968), cultural and scientific cooperation and exchanges (1970), economic and technical cooperation in the construction of new metallurgical project in Nigeria (1976), trade relations (1987), intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation (1989). According toWaliyullahi (2016), the series of agreements between Nigeria and the USSR have led to the involvement of the Soviet Union in the different sectors of the Nigerian economy ranging from metallurgy, petroleum industry, public health service and training of personnel, so also in geological surveys. In 1979, the Ajaokuta Steel Mill Company was constructed by the Soviet government to boost the steel industry and Nigeria’s economic base at a sum of about 184 million US Dollars (Obasekola, 2011). Also, a lot of Nigerian youths became beneficiaries of the Soviet Union Scholarship (Edgar, 2014). In the petroleum industry, the USSR between 1977 and 1982 constructed two systems of oil pipelines of 920km with a total output of 18.7 million tons per year (Obasekola, 2011).

Nigeria-Russia Relations

However, the influence of the USSR in Nigeria and Africa at large began to diminish in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reconstruction agenda which cumulated to the end of the cold war (Ojo, 1976) and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. This created a New World Order with capitalism becoming the dominant ideology after the collapse of the communist system. Russia became the most viable country of the other former Soviet Union republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine,and Uzbekistan) and needed to rise from the ruins left from the USSR (Edgar, 2014).

The new governmentwas faced with the challenge of building a new political administration and also to build a strong economic system. And because of her economic frailty, Russia had limited influence in their African relations. This period was also characterizedby the military dictatorship in Nigeria whichplunges the country into domestic political and economic challenges. However, the coming of a democratic government in 1999 brought a renewed relationship between the two countries with the signing of a friendly relations and partnership, signing of other bilateral agreement such as the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) and also the establishment of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation (ICESTC) which laid the basis for a mutually beneficial relations between the two countries to strengthen their economic ties (Edgar, 2014).

Currently, Nigeria is the second largest trading partner with Russia in the Sub-Saharan continent while Russia is the tenth biggest trading partner with Nigeria in the world (Edgar, 2014). There is a renewed economic interest in Nigeria in sectors such as energy,hydrocarbon extraction, metals and farm mechanization (Obasekola, 2011).

It is of note that the population of Africans in Russia are the minority but thebreakup of the Soviet Union opened the door to migration flow from many countries all over the world contrary to the internal flow of migrants during the Soviet Union period. This is a drive towards theliberalization of the economy which would make the economy to be more competitive forindustrialization(Heleniak, 2016). The need to encourage and control the inflow oflabour migrants became necessary to facilitate the economic growth of the country. With the break of the Soviet Union in1990,Russia became the dominant country among the former countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Over the years, there have been different policies on migration but the introduced in 2012 was meant to address different issues which I have termed socio-economic-demographic reasons.

The migration of countries of the former CIS into Russia is an obvious trend even before the disintegration of the Soviet Union(Heleniak, 2016). However, migration of other countries into Russia is a novel phenomenon. The table below shows that there is an increase in the number of migration of other countries into Russia but themajority of the migration is from the CIS.

(thousand persons)

Source: ROSSTAT, 2017

Nigerian Diasporas

There has been a constant increase in the number of international migration of both the skilled and the unskilled persons most of which are from the developing countries migrating to the developed countries(Akusoba, 2014). Nigerians are not left out in the floodgates of migrants seeking for better opportunities in the developed countries.There are many Nigerian who are very talented that are now residing in the developed countries who could play a very important role in Nigeria's development. This movement of trained and skilled personnel from a country of origin to other countries for better opportunities is known as brain drain. The termbrain drain can also be explained as the global transfer of knowledge and resources in the form of human capital and applies to the migration of academics, skilled professionals, technical manpower and experts from developing to developed countries(Akusoba, 2014).This trend has over the years become a common occurrence in Nigeria with major effects in sectors such as health, university lecturers, engineering, and information technology (Mba & Ekeopara, 2012).As of 2000, about 10.7% of Nigerians who are highly skilled and who got their training in Nigeria are living abroad with the United States of America and Europe having the largest share of the Nigerian skilled workers (Docquier & Marfouk, 2006).

Fig 3:World Bank data on brain drain

The picture above shows top ten countries of destination for Nigerian with tertiary education in 1990 and 2000. The infinite number of the active Nigerians who migrate to developed countries in search of greener pasture constitutes a chronic brain drain to the country. According to Mojeed-Sanni,as of2004, about 3.24 million Nigerians havetravelled to the USA in search of an improved living standard (Mojeed-Sanni, 2012). The breakdown of which professionals from the Nigerian Universities are the majority, he added that about 250,000 professionals are University lecturers in the USA.

Between 1997 and 2016, the remittance flow into the country has increased from $168 million to $19 billion (World Bank, 2017). Also, the flow remittance takes about 4.6% of the GDP (World Bank, 2017). At the moment, the National University Commission (NUC) is exploiting the potentials for Nigerians in the diasporas to contribute to tertiary education in the country (Uche C. & IOM, 2016). In a means of ensuring a stable relationship between the source country and their host countries, Nigerians in the diasporas are also active in transnational transactions which have promoted the flow of trade, capital,and technology back to Nigeria (Uche C. & IOM, 2016).

The organizational arm of the Nigerian Diasporas is calledNigerians in Diaspora Organisation(NIDO).The continental arms of the global Nigerians in Diaspora are operational in four continents which are 796NIDO-Europe, NIDO-Americas, NIDO-Asia and NIDO-Africa. NIDO-Russia is a chapter ofNIDO-Europe with her headquarter in London (NIDO-Russia, 2018). The core vision of NIDO isto develop effective, unified podium for Nigerians abroad to tie together their endowments, knowledge and assets for Nigeria’s national development and nation building (NIDO-Russia, 2018).

Comparison of Nigeria and Russia

Nigeria occupies an area with 923,768 km2 with 356,667 square miles. Her climate varies according to the regions in the country: equatorial in the south, tropical in thecentre and arid in the north. Nigeria is the most populous Black nation in the world with a population of over 186.5 million out of which 45% are less than 15 years (World Bank, 2017). The population growth rate is 2.44% with alabour force of 57.46 million and has a percentage of literacy at 59.6(World Bank, 2015). The 2016 data released by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that Nigeria is facing an increasing high unemployment level of 18.8% with an increasing rate of youth unemployment and underemployment at 52.7% as at the third quarter of 2017(NBS, 2018) and 77% of the employed earning less than $2 per day(World Bank, 2015) which shows that the poverty rate in the country is very high at 46%.The inflation rate in Nigeria as at March 2018 is put at 14.33%  which is a reflection ofhigh price consumers had to pay for goods and services that has led to the increase in the consumer price index (CPI) to 13.34%(NBS, 2018). The Human Development Index (HDI) of the country is 0.514 placing the country at a position of 152 out of 188 countries that are put into consideration(UNDP, 2015). The country’s nominal GDP in 2015 is put at N94, 268 billion and the income from Foreign Direct Investment in 2016 is $699.4 million(NBS, 2018). The distribution of family income – Gini coefficient index is 42.97 as at 2009 ( indicating that there is a concentration of wealth among few Nigerians at the expense of themajority. Nigeria has a net migration rate of -0.3 which signifies that more people are fleeing the country(World Bank, 2017).The majority of those fleeing the country owing to some factors such as ambiguity in government vision for the country, corruption, lack of job opportunities, widening gaps in the exchange rate and so on, are those in the working range, who are strong, productive and educated.

Russia, on the other hand, has the largest territory in the world. It occupies more than 11% of theland boundary on the earth. It has a dwindling population of less than 144 million and a population growth rate of 0.2% asof 2015(World Bank, 2015). Thelabour force inRussia is about 74.89 million with unemployment put at 5.7%(World Bank, 2015). The poverty rate in Russia according to the World Bank is put at 13.4%. Compare to Nigeria, the country has a high human development of 0.798(UNDP, 2015). The GDP percapita according to the World Bank is 9092.58 US dollar.Russia is a destination of attraction for a lot of migrants from the developing countries mostly from the Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS), the former territories of the Soviet States due to the high standard of living and the possibility of earning an improved pay and having a better lifestyle. Again, thelabour market of the country allowsthe employmentof foreigners in both the formal and the informal sectors of the country(Yudina, 2005). After the break of the Soviet Union, theRussianeconomy went through series of transformation which ensured that most of thegovernment-owned assets wereprivatised and allowed more investment by private individuals in the country(Blasi, Kroumova, & Kruse, 1997).

Comparing the economic development of Russia and Nigeria shows a huge imbalance. Russia is more economically developed than Nigeria and this is an exogenous factor that necessitates the increase in the number of Nigerianstravelling to Russia.Martin (2005) says that migration is as a result of the disparities in the demographic and economic development of countries. The movement of labour migrants is influenced by an economic factor ranging from employment opportunities, the wage gap, differentials in exchange rate among others which will be influenced by an improved lifestyle (Massey D. S., et al., 1993). This disparity is clearly shown in the tabular representation of the comparison of Russia and Nigeria in the table below:

Table 1: Comparison of Russia and Nigeria