I’m an expat. Don’t let me get out of here!
By Luc Jones, Partner
Technology & Natural Resources, Antal International Russia Ltd
So you’re an expat based in Moscow and you’re worried about losing your job? Join the (ever expanding) club! Times are tough in Russia; it may have taken longer for the global downturn to hit this part of the world, but once it struck, it hit everyone hard – Russians and foreigners alike. Some in late summer were even naïve enough to think that we were immune here, protected from the world recession by a booming economy and high energy prices. But are we really deep down in the merde, and where do we all go from here?
As an expat, your future depends very much on what your company does, how well it is faring and more importantly exactly what your role is within the organization. First to get the chop has been the director of strategy as the firm’s key aim is looking at how to survive the coming few months, and this is generally done by focusing on the areas of business that are currently in demand and can bring in immediate revenue. Any ‘nice-to-have’ projects, whether planned or in the process are in many cases being shelved.
Since most non-CIS citizens can be grouped into one of three categories, let’s take a look at where you stand.
Long-term Moscow expats know the market well, have good contacts within both the Russian and foreign business community and often either run their own business or work for somebody who does. They are invariably settled here with a Russian wife and children, possibly own their own apartment and are here for the long haul. Many survived the August 1998 crisis so should be extremely adept at riding the present storm.
Corporate executives who were posted to Russia with their multinational organization some time ago needn’t panic if they are in a position to justify their (expensive) existence within the firm. Whilst generous benefi t packages for such expatriates, which can sometimes double their actual salary – housing allowance, flights home, schooling, driver, healthcare for the family – are scarcer than in the 1990s and still on the decline, they have not gone away, and are unlikely to disappear whilst such skills are not available locally. If you’re in this enviable position, milk it while you can – you’re a lucky b*stard!
Recent arrivals are probably those that could be at greatest risk – in many cases they were brought in for their specific knowledge of a niche area or to develop a new line of business – classic examples are in financial services or real estate as the Russian market expands and there are insuffi - cient Russian nationals with relevant experience in such sectors. They previously had little or no exposure to Russia and if they do find themselves surplus to requirements in their existing company, they will be the ones struggling to find a new employer. Many were attracted to Russia by the challenge – not to mention the big bucks, and are unlikely to have the transferable skills to be of interest to those employers still hiring – in fact some have packed up and left the country altogether, although this is nothing like the autumn 1998 exodus that we witnessed, when the overwhelming majority of expats were on a one-way ticket out of Sheremetyevo 2.