The war in Ukraine has created a new reality in the tech labor market: tens of thousands of programmers and tech workers escaped from the country to avoid joining the Russian army and taking part in the war, but surprisingly – they were not successfully received in western countries. Lately, the Wall Street Journal has estimated that nearly 20% of the tech workers in Russia have fled from the country, and although no one knows their exact number, it is surely a large one. Based on various estimations, the hi-tech sector makes up about 6% of the Gross National Income, but it was considered one of Russia’s most significant growth engines before the invasion on February 24th. Also, this sector does not have an exemption from taxation.
In the first days of the war, several companies tried to recruit the fleeing tech workers, but recently we have noticed a new phenomenon: countries refuse to grant visas to Russian tech workers, so they find themselves helplessly wandering. Lately, Techtime met a group of Russian programmers who arrived in an Asian country and temporarily stayed on a student visa. They desperately describe how most of the western countries are shut to them and refuse to open their gates, temporarily or permanently.
The picture depicted from their personal story is of a mass escape. One of the younger developers in this group is a software applications UI developer. Her former firm employed around 2,500 employees before the war. According to her story, most of the employees spread out around the world, while roughly 10% remained in Russia, being tied up to their families. Those are highly skilled employees that were educated in cultural and economic centers such as Moscow or St. Petersburg.
No one wants the Russians
When they left Russia, they were certain they would be welcomed with open arms in the developed countries, which are crying out for tech talents. Nevertheless, they have now realized they are not welcomed in most countries. “No one wants the Russians”, she says with despair. Israeli experience shows that the contribution of Russian tech workers to the industry could be enormous. Following the large Aliyah waves in the 1990s, they were smoothly integrated into the Israeli industry, and today it’s hard to imagine the development of the tech and electronics markets without Russian employees. Anyone who has visited the R&D labs or production lines in recent years knows how common the Russian language is in the industry.
From this point of view, it is hard to understand the conduct of the countries in the western world: not only do they need the Russian workers, but they are also willing to weaken the Russian tech sector. The sanctions and boycott of technological supplies to Russia are the building blocks of the western objection to Russian aggression. So, why are the workers being neglected? There is a great fear that a substantial portion of this group will have to go back to Russia and re-integrate into the industry – but this time in weapon and military technology areas. According to our estimate, this will be a huge mistake with a heavy price – both humanitarian and economic, and even a military price in the future.
Translated by P. Ofer