Soviet Union Table of Contents
Two aspects of the Soviet system tended to act as impediments to voluntary migration: state ownership of the land and, in theory at least, a rigid system of internal passports that regulated where people live and work. Despite these impediments, in the 1980s approximately 15 million citizens (5 percent of the total population), some with the state's approval and some without it, changed their place of residence each year. The overwhelming majority of the migrants were young males sixteen years of age and older. Many of these were students. Millions of pioneers arrived at or departed from newly explored territories in western Siberia or the Soviet Far East. Many of the migrants abandoned the hard work and simple life on state farms and collective farms for the better pay and amenities of the largest cities.
By far the largest percentage of migration (40 percent) has been from villages to cities: for example, between 1959 and 1979 the agricultural work force in the nonchernozem region of the Russian Republic declined by 40 percent as a result of movement to cities. Since the Bolshevik Revolution, the urban population grew by almost 85 million people as a result of in-migration from rural areas alone. Between 1970 and 1979, more than 3 million people left the countryside annually, and just 1.5 million moved in the opposite direction. A substantial proportion of migration (34 percent) took place from city to city .
The pervasive influence of the severe climate exerted pressure on migration patterns. In some parts of Siberia, the climate and working conditions were so harsh that shifts were set up, based on the recommendations of medical authorities, to return workers to more hospitable climes after a tour of two or three years. As an incentive to attract workers to sparsely settled areas such as western Siberia, the government established a system of bonuses and added credit toward retirement. Between 1970 and 1985, migration patterns began to adapt to the needs of the national economy, and the long-standing maldistribution of natural and human resources began to improve. The incentives helped to reverse, at least temporarily, the negative migration stream out of Siberia in the first part of the 1970s. Still, the age-sex structure of the newly exploited areas was one typical for frontiers. Disproportionate numbers of young males made the area far from conducive for establishing a stable population base and labor force.
In the 1980s, the government continued to find it difficult to stimulate migration out of the southern parts of the country and into the northern and eastern sections of the Soviet Union. Contrary to the desired migratory pattern, the areas with the greatest levels of mobility were generally those with the lowest birth rates, in particular the Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian republics. In Soviet Central Asia, where birth rates were considerably higher, the levels of migration and population mobility were low. These demographic patterns were not seen by planners as contributing to the long-term solution of labor supply problems stemming from labor deficiencies in the central European region and labor surpluses in Soviet Central Asia.
Because the government continued to maintain tight control over migration into or out of the country, between 1970 and 1985 the population remained largely a "closed" one, in which increases or decreases as a result of immigration or emigration were insignificant. According to figures released in 1989, some 140,000 persons emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1987 and 1988. Authorities expected the rate to stabilize at about 60,000 to 70,000 per year. Overall, observers estimated that as many as 500,000 émigrés, mostly Jews, Armenians, Germans, and Poles, were allowed to leave between 1960 and 1985.
Data as of May 1989