For most of the postwar period, the state tightly controlled migration into and emigration from the Soviet Union and movement within the nation. Nevertheless, in each year of the 1980s, about 15 million citizens changed their place of residence within the Soviet Union, and large numbers of some ethnic groups, most notably Jews, Germans, and Armenians, were successful in emigrating. An estimated 2 million Jews left the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991 (see Other Religions, ch. 4). Overall, external migration played a relatively minor role in the structure of the Russian Republic's population.
With the introduction of the policies of glasnost
(see Glossary) in the late 1980s, migration policy began to change. In 1985 just 2,943 persons received official permission to emigrate. By 1990 the figure had risen to more than 100,000. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, legislative and administrative changes brought about new policies with respect to migration. First, the traditional internal passport (propiska
) that conferred permission to work and live in a specific place was nominally abolished, enhancing freedom of movement within Russia. Second, the general right to emigrate was written into law in the 1993 constitution.
Prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, major historical internal migration paths were from the western parts of Russia and the Soviet Union to the northern and eastern regions. In contrast to the American experience, Russia has had difficulty in stabilizing the population in newly settled eastern and northern areas of the federation, where the climate and living conditions are harsh. Despite pay and benefit incentives, turnover has continued to hamper the operations of the giant territorial production complexes, especially in the key energy sector.
In the Soviet period, immigration was not a problem because the Soviet Union was not a destination of preference for any class of refugee. For that reason, in the early 1990s Russia was not equipped with agencies or laws for dealing with a large-scale influx of asylum seekers and returning Russians. In light of new demographic movements in the 1990s, however, respected academician Dmitriy Likhachev has warned that in the next decade immigration may become a national concern of the same magnitude as national defense.