Russian Tech Workers Are Leaving For More Stable Pastures

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The costs of Putin’s war are vast and often incalculable, especially in Ukraine. But in Russia, they amount to more than just the sting of heavy Western sanctions. Increasingly, the cost of war includes talent.

Young Russian workers, specifically in the tech field, are fleeing the nation in droves. In short, fears of ongoing political and economic instability have sparked a massive brain drain.

From Russia, With a STEM Degree

Young workers are fleeing to avoid possible conscription. Meanwhile, tech firms with international customers are relocating to avoid sanctions and the stigma of conducting Russia-related business. The brain drain is not necessarily surprising given the global hunger for tech workers, which Russia produces almost as many of as it does oil and vodka. A 2020 Global Skills Index report found Russians scored highest in technology and data science proficiency.

So where are these workers headed? High-end talent holding fancy European Union visas has fled to Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Others have decamped to Armenia, Georgia, and former Soviet republics in Central Asia, where Russians don’t need a visa. In total, an astounding number of tech workers are in mass exodus:

  • In just five weeks since war broke out, 70,000 computer specialists have emigrated from Russia, according to one estimate cited by the Associated Press.
  • Through April, another 100,000 tech workers could leave the country, Sergei Plugotarenko, head of industry lobbying group the Russian Association for Electronic Communications, told a parliamentary committee last week, the AP reported.

To prevent any further outflow, Putin this week signed legislation eliminating all income taxes until 2024 for Russian IT company employees.

Security Concerns: The fleeing workers aren’t necessarily trusted. “The IT sector in Russia is very closely connected to the security services,” Lithuanian political analyst Marius Laurinavicius told the AP. “We risk important parts of the criminal system of Russia.” Lithuania has since blocked visa applications from Russian firms and startups.