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What Does It Mean to Control Migration? Soviet Mobility Policies in Comparative Perspective

Authors

  • Matthew A. Light

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto
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Matthew A. Light is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto. He thanks Professors Mariana Valverde and Peter Solomon (University of Toronto) and Anne-Marie Singh (Ryerson University, Toronto) for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article; and Gregory Yerashotis and Adlan Taramov for research assistance. He can be contacted at matthew.light@utoronto.ca.

Abstract

The migration policies of the former Soviet Union (or USSR) included a virtual abolition of emigration and immigration, an effective ban on private travel abroad, and pervasive bureaucratic controls on internal migration. This article outlines this Soviet package of migration controls and assesses its historical and international distinctiveness through comparison with a liberal state, the United States, and an authoritarian capitalist state, Apartheid South Africa. Soviet limitations on external migration were more restrictive than those of contemporary capitalist states, and Soviet regulation of internal migration was unusual in its direct bureaucratic supervision of the individual. However, Soviet policy did not aim at the suppression of internal migration, but at its complete regularization. The ultimate goal was “regime adherence”: the full integration of the citizen into the Soviet political order. In contrast to the USSR, migration in the contemporary world is marked by “irregularization”: policies that lead to the proliferation of insecure and unauthorized migration.

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