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Migration, Shadow Economy and Parallel Legal Orders in Russia

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MIGRANT LAW RUSSIA (Migration, Shadow Economy and Parallel Legal Orders in Russia)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

The overall aim of this fellowship is to train and develop an early career researcher through a research project that focuses on undocumented labour migrants’ legal culture and socio-legal integration in a politically hybrid regime. The project uses the case of Russia, a hybrid political regime and the world’s second largest recipient of labour migrants, to investigate how undocumented migrants negotiate and manoeuvre around the restrictive socio-legal environment through producing new ways of informal governance and legal order. The project aims to accomplish the following three objectives: (1) to develop a theoretically robust understanding of undocumented migrants’ socio-legal integration in politically hybrid regimes’; (2) to produce new ethnographic material about the relationship between undocumented migrants, employers, law-enforcement structures and protection rackets (i.e. ‘parallel legal orders’) in the Russian migrant labour market and situate these processes within a broader governance and rule of law debate; and (3) to advance the applicant’s research skills, theoretical development and professional maturity. These objectives will be accomplished through a structured and individually tailored research and career development programme. Academically, the objectives will be achieved by exploring undocumented labour migrants’ legal culture and socio-legal integration in the context of Russia. To accomplish the career development objectives, the applicant will obtain advanced training in qualitative and ethnographic research methods that will enable him to exploit empirical research for theoretical development and publications.
The project has fully achieved its objectives and milestones for the period. The project Migrant Law Russia had three specific scientific and training objectives that were successfully achieved during the project period.

(1) Theoretical: To develop a theoretically robust understanding of undocumented migrants’ socio-legal integration in politically hybrid regimes, based on the collection and analysis of fieldwork data. This objective was accomplished by analyzing and theorizing the ethnographic data on the legal adaptation strategies of Central Asian migrant workers in Russia.

(2) Empirical: To produce new ethnographic material about the everyday interactions, alliances and struggles between undocumented migrants, protection rackets and law-enforcement structures in the Russian migrant labor market and place these processes within broader governance and rule of law debates. This objective was accomplished by conducting ethnographic studies in Moscow, Russia, and in Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan.

(2) Career-building goals: Career advancement by developing research skills, theoretical knowledge, and professional maturity through advanced research training, publications, public engagement, and mentorship. This objective was achieved through a structured and individually tailored research and career development programme (Career Development Plan) which was built on the combination of diverse career enhancement elements such as training-through-research, training-through-courses, and training-through- teaching-and-supervising.

The main scientific results of the project are presented in the forthcoming book (monograph) with the University of California Press: Urinboyev, R. (2021). Migration and Hybrid Political Regimes: Navigating the Legal Landscape in Russia. University of California Press (in production). The project’s results were disseminated through academic conferences, workshops, blog posts, media interviews and outreach activities.
One of the original contributions of the Migrant Law Russia project is that it presents new theoretical and empirical insights into scholarly debates on migrants’ legal adaptation and integration. While migration has become an all-important topic of discussion around the globe, mainstream literature on migrant legal adaptation and integration tends to focus on case studies of immigrant communities in Western-style democracies. We know relatively little about how migrants adapt to a new legal environment in the ever-growing hybrid political regimes that are neither clearly democratic nor conventionally authoritarian. Migrant Law Russia project, utilizing the case of Russia – an archetypal hybrid political regime and the third-largest recipients of migrants worldwide – investigated how Central Asian migrant workers produce new forms of informal governance and legal order. By using insights and perspectives from (a) legal pluralism, (b) hybrid political regimes scholarship, informality literature (c) and (d) socio-legal studies of migration, the project put forward a new framework that incorporates “informality and a weak rule-of-law” as key analytical factors to understand migrant legal adaptation in hybrid political regimes. The core argument is that the legal adaptations of migrant workers in hybrid political regimes such as Russia should be understood not only through migrants’ legalization efforts and involvement with state institutions, but also in terms of their knowledge of street law and informal rules, connections to street institutions, and their capacity to integrate into the corrupt and weak rule-of-law environment. Thus, it is suggested that the law and legal adaptation should be defined more broadly, beyond state immigration laws, policies, and institutions, and encompass informal “legal orders”. These informal legal orders include (1) migrants’ agency and their “legal baggage”, i.e. informal (and non-legal) practices, rules, strategies, networks, and structures used by migrants to follow, comply with, avoid, or maneuver around the laws; (2) informal, rent-seeking behaviors and practices among state officials (e.g. immigration officers, policemen, and border guards) in charge of enforcing immigration laws and policies; (3) street institutions (racketeers, intermediaries, and former law enforcement officers) used to enforce contracts and legalization; and (4) transnational networks, interactions, and pressures that shape migrants’ experiences in the host society.

Migrant Law Russia project findings have effects and impact beyond academia. Traditionally, the major emphasis has been placed on formal avenues of migrant integration and adaptation, whereas informal channels of migrant adaptation have been regarded as an abnormal, exception to the rule of law. However, the question lingers as to how we should understand and study migrant adaptation and integration processes in migrant-receiving countries characterized by the weak rule-of-law, dysfunctional institutions and rampant corruption which leave little or no room for formal migrant adaptation. This question has important implications not only for academic circles but also for immigration policymakers and practitioners, both at the national and international level, who are concerned with the dilemma of how to govern labor migration processes. Migrant Law Russia project findings challenge Western-centric understanding and provide a context-sensitive understanding of the interplay between migrant undocumentedness, informality and legal adaptation which will inform different target audiences and thereby advance global discussions on migrant rights in different parts of the world.
MSC Fellow is doing ethnographic fieldwork in Moscow, Russia