The impact of Covid and the exodus of Russian tech workers

Anastasia Mirolyubova, Immigram Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer, is a UK-based serial entrepreneur.

Based on the World Migration Report 2022, there are an estimated 281 million international migrants in the world (according to the latest available data from 2020). Nearly two-thirds of them – 169 million – are migrant workers.

In 2020, the United States continued to be the main destination for 51 million international migrants. Germany was the second most prominent destination (16 million migrants) with Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UK rounding out the top five destination countries.

The brain drain

In recent years, the mobility of highly educated and skilled migrants, in particular academics and researchers in higher education, has accelerated huge (paywall). In contrast to the short-term migration encouraged by internationalization policies, the brain drain is usually of a permanent character (paywall) – highly skilled migrants leave their country of origin in search of better opportunities with the hope of settling in a new place. This process has a significant impact on the economy of the country of origin and the foundations of its higher education and research branch.

The brain drain is becoming an increasing problem, not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries. The mobility of skilled workers has sparked a global war for talent that will maximize global economic competitiveness and eliminate shortages of highly skilled workers. This means that developed countries in need of talented professionals are devoting their resources to closing skills gaps, boosting their dominant economic sectors and simplifying the immigration process.

The influence of Covid

On top of the existing brain drain problem, the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a seismic impact on the global labor market. In April 2020, the first shock of the pandemic led to an unprecedented increase in the OECD unemployment rate from 3% to 8.8%— the highest percentage in ten years. The crisis has largely affected less skilled migrants and over-represented workers in the sectors most affected by the pandemic (e.g. tourism, leisure, hospitality). But while many of these workers have struggled to find work in a scarce job market, global talent has quickly adapted to the new normal.

With borders gradually reopening, many specialists and companies have cooled down to the work-from-home model becoming permanent and are leaning towards a hybrid approach. This led governments and universities to compete for international talent with renewed vigor. Spurred on by the slowdown in migration, the hunt for highly skilled workers has resulted in: new immigration policy, visa regulations and other recruiting drivers. These regulations aim to streamline entry procedures and reduce administrative requirements in the country.

Examples include the British Innovation strategyGermany Skillful Immigration Lawthe United States premium processing upgradesBelgians find year residence permit and much more.

Russian exodus

Another prominent and recent brain drain is occurring as a result of the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On March 22, Sergei Plugotarenko, head of the Russian Electronic Communications Association, estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 technical workers had left Russia, and that another 70,000 to 100,000 were soon to follow.

In late June, Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov . said known person that Russia is struggling with a shortage of about 170,000 IT specialists. Tech specialists are only part of a much larger number of newly minted Russian emigrants, but their departure would be “a even more lasting impact on the country’s economy.”

Digital nomads and companies in their entirety are leaving Russia. According to Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, more than 30,000 Russians had arrived in the country at the end of March 2022 (with the latest estimate almost 110,000). Some immigrants have since moved, but many plan to remain in Georgia. Most new emigrants are remote workers in the technical industry. In addition, arrivals from Belarus to Georgia increased tenfold compared to the same period in 2019.

Armenia also proved to be one of the most popular visa-free destinations for Russian emigrants, along with other EAEU members. Armenian Minister of Economy Vahan Kerobian claimed that Russian technology companies are moving their operations to Armenia. According to the latest estimate, about 500 Russian technology companies have already moved or opened branches in Armenia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey also welcome Russians with little to no visa requirements.

Impact on companies

Unlike other top destination countries, I think US companies will definitely benefit from this outflow of talent. It comes at a good time for the country’s economy, and according to a recent reportthere were nearly 400,000 tech-related vacancies in February 2022. Meanwhile, there were only about 89,000 computer science students graduate annually from US universities, inevitably leading to a chronic shortage of IT specialists.

Among the recent proposals in the current administration’s latest additional request to Congress is to: scholarship work-based visas to those Russian specialists who currently have no employer. If the request is granted, it would make it easier to relocate for Russians with a master’s or doctoral degree in science, engineering, technology or mathematics – they could apply for a visa without first getting a US employer sponsor.

The pandemic has accelerated the brain drain and paved the way for an entirely new approach to employment and immigration. Ultimately, I think current events will continue a global war for talent. The fact that so-called less developed countries are losing talent is certainly changing the job market and business approaches in more developed countries.

I believe that “brain currents” in developed countries will eventually end (or significantly reduce) talent shortages and may even be beneficial to competition in general; this phenomenon has the potential to equalize salary levels between those just preparing to relocate and those already working in the destination country. Soon, recruiting talented workers from developing countries will become the best means of tackling underemployment problems.

Governments are likely to continue to invest in foreign talent to counter the brain drain and enrich the pool of highly skilled professionals. There’s no doubt that we haven’t seen the latest immigration policies and routes to help talented workers embrace the new normal. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?