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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 13:57 GMT
Russia 'needs more immigration'
German Gref
German Gref oversees Russian economic reform
Key members of the Russian cabinet have called for lifting restrictions on immigration in order to counter negative demographic trends.

Economic Development Minister German Gref said that without more immigrants, Russia was unlikely to meet the target of doubling its GDP in 10 years.

Another official said that Russia should compete for immigrants with the EU and former Soviet states.

Russia's population has been steadily decreasing throughout the last decade.

Mr Gref said that to counter this trend, Russia should change the legislation which allows its regions to establish yearly quotas on foreign workers.

Many Russians are wary about immigration, particularly in regions close to the Caucasus, where immigration is often associated with increased crime rates.

Racist attacks and heavy-handed police clampdowns on illegal immigrants are common.

But Mr Gref said that from 2007, Russia would be entering the stage of a major reduction in the size of its workforce, which could only be compensated by a massive influx of foreign workers.

'Tough competition'

According to Mr Gref, in 2006 the Russian workforce will decrease by 30,000, while the next year will see a fall of more than 10 times that, culminating in a drop of half a million in 2008.

At the same time, Mr Gref said, the immigration quota system had led to a fall in the difference between the number of workers entering and leaving the country to just 30,000 - a figure that could not satisfy the country's growing demand for workers.

The chief Russian statistician, Vladimir Sokolin, backed Mr Gref's assertions by saying that Russia was entering "the stage of tough competition for immigrants with European and former USSR countries".

"We are the first country where economic growth is continuing despite a decreasing population. But this will not last for long," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set the target of doubling the country's GDP in 10 years.

In a display of the growing dissent among the more liberal sections of Mr Putin's entourage, Mr Gref has repeatedly said that this cannot be achieved without a serious change in the country's economic policy.

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