MOSCOW –  Over the past two decades, Russia has been hit by a demographic double whammy: an overall burst of emigration that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as a more recent and concentrated brain drain that has sapped the country of some of its best qualified students and highly skilled workers who have left to seek opportunities abroad.

Desperate to get back some of this human power back home, Moscow put in place a government program five years ago that was specifically aimed to lure expatriates back to Russia. The state would pay for transportation, offer an installation grant and guarantee jobs and housing if emigres came back to the motherland.

But, as the Migration Ministry has recently found out, a free plane ticket and a bit of startup cash has not managed to convince many Russian ex-pats to return.

Expected to attract 300,000 returnees per year, the program has had just 61,000 adherents since beginning in 2006. The majority of them come from former Soviet republics, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine, although a government spokesperson insisted that the program has attracted participants from farther-flung countries, like the United States and Bolivia.

Russia’s population did stop declining in 2009, but the resettlement program still does not offset the Russians who emigrate every year. In 2010, a total of 29,900 people gave up their Russian citizenship after emigrating, and while there are no specific statistics on the number of Russians who emigrate without giving up their citizenship, migration experts say the number is between 100,000 and 150,000 per year.

Part of the problem, say experts, is that the program only makes sense for people who left as refugees, and for those who were already set to return to Russia. Of course, and unfortunately for Russia, very few of the returning emigrants are the highly-qualified individuals that everyone wants to attract.

Read the full article in Russian by Andrei Kozenko

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