MOSCOW (AFP) – The plunge of the ruble hasn’t left only Russians shell shocked — foreign workers from traders to maids are considering bailing out as Moscow turns from an El Dorado into a financial black hole.
The phenomenon is not quantifiable nor is there anything to indicate an exodus of expatriates is under way, but many admit to considering whether it is time to leave Russia after the ruble shed a quarter of its value in a couple of days last week.
While the ruble has recovered somewhat, it is still down some 40 per cent against the dollar and euro this year, leaving many in a precarious financial position.
Joy left her three young children in Manila earlier this year to cash in on the high wages offered by well-to-do Muscovites to clean their apartments.
“When I arrived in April, I was paid 1,500 rubles, or 42 dollars (30 euros), for four hours of housecleaning,” said the 28-year-old. “Today, for the same work, it comes out to just 20 dollars (16 euros).” She had been lured here from the Philippines by friends who had been working in Moscow. “They told me the ruble was very stable and there wasn’t as much competition as in other cities,” said Joy.
She had been sending home up to two-thirds of her earnings to support her family in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries. “My goal was to have saved up enough to pay for my oldest son to continue his studies and buy a moto-taxi for my husband so he would have a job,” said Joy.
“I also wanted to repair the roof of my parents’ house … but today I realise that is impossible.”
Now, she said, “I don’t earn enough to send home for them to survive. My parents don’t understand, they think I’m working less, and I feel guilty.”
Joy is comparatively lucky to be getting paid at all as many migrant labourers, particularly those from former Soviet republics who work on construction sites, are not.
“Employers have now stopped paying altogether, referring to the crisis,” said Anara Beisheyeva, a lawyer for Migration and Law, an organisation that works with migrant labourers in Russia.
“They tell them: ‘there is no money, we are closing’,” said Beisheyeva. “People are being left with nothing.” She said for the moment most migrant labourers were sticking around, hoping for a quick end to the crisis rather than returning home with empty pockets. But even buying the ticket home could soon be out of reach for some, as the prices of plane tickets are set in dollars.
“They are becoming more and more expensive while I am earning less and less money,” said Joy. “I’ll have to decide quick or I’ll might end up being marooned in Moscow.