Who are expats?



On conditions of anonymity, Khamovniki interviewed 150 established expats living in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Khamovniki report that their respondents were from the USA, Europe, South America and South East Asia, and work in important jobs in ‘key sectors of the Russian economy’.

What according to ‘Khamovniki’ is an expat

Khamovniki considers expats to be ‘foreign highly qualified specialists and managers working in Russia on contract,’ and refer to Rosstat for statistics, which states that there are over 100,000 specialists who fall into this category in Russia. Among these, 40,000 occupy senior management positions, according to Rosstat. The Khamovniki report does not include in its analysis the other 60% of expats who do not earn so much, do not work on contract, but who well may be highly qualified specialists. So the Khamovniki report could be renamed as a sociological report of highly paid foreign specialists, not of all expats. About one third of the target group of 40,000 people that Khamovniki researched live in Moscow, and 14% in St. Petersburg. Their influence on the Russian economy is, according, to the research group, un-proportionally large. About one third of the turnover of goods and services in Russia is managed by organisations, which are controlled by foreign capital, although only 5% of the population work for such companies. However the number of expats has decreased dramatically from a peak in 2009, and is now just below what it was in 2000. According to government statistics, 1,800 Americans worked in Russia in 2000, and 800 in 2012. According to Rosstat, the number of citizens from EU countries ‘officially’ working in Russia has fallen from 35,300 to 7,800.

There are a number of problems with Khamovniki definition of an expat as: a ‘foreign highly qualified specialists and managers working in Russia on contract.’ Is a millionaire expat who has no higher education an expat? If being an ‘expert’ really means being successful, and with an undisclosed section of the Russian economy still being ‘grey’, where do the figures come from? One participant at the conference at the Metropol asked whether an Azerbaidzhani could be an expat. “If not, why not?” Be this as it may, we see with the Khamovniki report, that the Russian administration as a whole is trying to come to terms with the appearance of a new social class which although small in numbers is highly significant in terms of their contribution to the economy and possibly to the development of Russian society.


There are a number of reasons that the number of expats has fallen so dramatically since 2009. After the crisis, many western companies could not (and still cannot) afford to send expatriates to Russia. Khamovniki point out that Russians have become far more professional, and it is a lot cheaper for a foreign company to hire them, than bringing in their own specialists. Companies still prefer to place their own top people, but second and third level managers are now more often than not Russians.

In a bid to cut down on illegal immigration from countries of the former Soviet Union, the visa regime has tightened up a lot over the fast few years. The top level expats are granted a special kind of visa (Highly Qualified Specialist visa). This has had the effect of easing the visa situation for top level managers, but making it more difficult for everybody else, many of whom still exist on dubious ‘business visas’.

Many foreigners will not go down the Residence Permit road because this involves situations which they see as being compromising, such as giving blood tests for syphilis. Obtaining a working visa and residence permit, however, is no more difficult in Russia than it is in many other countries, this has not changed. What has changed is that as far as visas are concerned, unless you qualify for a Highly Qualified Specialist visa, you can no longer expect to be treated any differently than a citizen from Kazakhstan, for example, just because you happened to be born a western country.


Khamovniki splits expats up into three groups: The ‘utilitarians’ those who have come to Russia with one goal – to make as much money as possible, the ‘ideologists’ those who try to introduce western forms of management into Russia, and the ‘modernisers’, whose mission is to find common points of interest with Russian business culture, and create new effective work models. I personally find such segmentation rather dangerous, as yes, top level expats are definitely here for the money. Many of them, however, desperately wish to introduce western forms of management into Russia, and do so. Being a high earning expat does not exclude the possibility of being a reformer.
Khamovnki did not mention the fact that the nature of expat jobs has itself changed. In the past, head office would give their Russian-based expatriate a lot of freedom as he or she was treated as a coloniser working in almost unknown territory, with almost unlimited choice and in some cases, expenses budgets.. Now, with Russian in the WTO and Russia’s (up to very recently) increasing integration into the global economy, more and more decisions are taken by head office, meaning that the kind of expat needed here is different. Those seeking an adventure are being replaced by those worried about paying their children’s school fees at one of Moscow’s top international schools.

The idealists of the 1980s and 1990s are now quite hard to come by, as the cost of living and the difficulties of getting a visa make it more difficult to simply exist and enjoy Russian culture. Expats who come to Russia to find a wife/lover are here as well, and this can stop some expat families coming here. As one British expat mentioned: “an HR company discovered that a huge number of expats turn down their assignments to Russia because the beauty of Russian women threatens the existence of their families.”

Khamovnki’s sociological findings are interesting. Their report states that foreigners value the following characteristics amongst Russians: inventiveness, an ability to think in non-standard ways, the ability to handle crisis situations, the ability to handle stress and be patient, the ability to handle bureaucracy, and the ability not to dramatize situations. On the other hand, Russians respect the following qualities in their foreign colleagues: a belief in the possibility of success, ability to organise their time, diplomacy and political correctness, professionalism and ‘professional honesty.’ Amongst qualities that Russians have imbued from foreigners, Khamovniki note the following: an ability to concentrate on the job in hand, structural and systematic thinking, self-organisation, an ability to take on responsibility, ‘professional honesty’, and the ability to organise relationships with a company’s management diplomatically.

Integration of expats

Khamovniki noticed that the employees of many top-level expats express no great desire for their own expat employees to become fully integrated with Russian society. The danger is, so expats interviewed said, that they would not be able to fulfil the directives of their companies. They would ‘lose their objectivity’ and thus become susceptible to the influence of Russian culture. This was particularly noticeable amongst diplomats. “An expat who is paid $2000 or more a week will serve the interests of his company or country first” said one British expat. Fair enough.


As one can expect, the Khamovniki report covered a whole range of opinions about Russia and Russians, from the demonic to the angelic. No overall ‘rating’ was published in the report. Here are a few of the respondents’ comments:
• “The majority of foreigners consider that Russians are good people (UK, magazine editor).
• “Russians are similar to Japanese in their souls. Both Russians and Japanese favour deep relationships, real friendship. The difference is that Russians express their opinions directly, whereas Japanese wait until a suitable occasion arises (Japan, head of department of an international trading company).
• “I feel guilty if I don’t manage to complete a particular task in time, but that is not how my Russian colleagues relate to their work” (USA, editor in research department of Russian bank).
• “If you ask somebody the way in Pakistan, they will show you where you need to go. Not the same thing here.” (Pakistan, sales manager in a trading company).
• “Western Europeans have an easier time adapting here, because their economies have a larger state sector” (UK, magazine editor).
• “In Germany we are used to saving right up until we die. But here in Russia, people don’t think what is going to happen to them in 20-30 years (Germany, top-manager of a recruitment agency).”
• “Information is often dissipated amongst a large number of people, at least that is the way it is my company. It is difficult to gather information. In other countries, it is possible to go up to a certain person, and he or she will collect the information for you. Here, horizontal organisation is very weak, and this doesn’t help cooperation between different people and parts of a company (USA, head of research in FMCG company).

On internal changes

• “It’s not important how well you speak Russian, and it’s not important how integrated you are into Russian culture. You will always be a foreigner here. Whereas America is a constantly boiling liquid of different people from different cultures. Yes, I have become more Russian. I even have two pairs of shoes: I go to work in one pair, and walk about the office in another. I never used to go to the Banya, now I even enjoy it. I enjoy spending money a lot more than I did in Germany” (Germany, top-manager of recruitment agency).