After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many IT professionals from post-Soviet countries decided to build their careers abroad. Programmers and developers, engineers and computer scientists preferred employment with the largest and most famous global companies. This process of professional migration started in the 1990s to Israel, the USA, and Germany. But in the 2000s, the UK became a receiving country as well: the local financial market and the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (2002-2011) became especially attractive for Computer Science and IT professionals. The inflow from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus created new expat communities based on language and based professional interests. By the early 2010s, London hosted a large and heterogeneous community of Russian-speaking specialists, as the specialized education and technical English skills provided by the Soviet educational system assured relatively easy access to the global professional IT community. Many of these highly skilled migrants gathered into small groups, which became known as “Russian mafia” or “Russian lunches”. The core members of these groups were temporary workers in the financial sphere.
The case of Russian-speaking professionals in London is both complex and interesting. At its center is a paradox. On the one hand, IT specialization facilitates mobility and independence from any particular company or place. On the other hand, mobility often ends where IT immigrants find satisfying living and working conditions and tight communities of mutual support.
The decision to leave Russia was often prompted by the desire to escape Post-Soviet economic disorder. Computer scientists who decided to emigrate from Russia in the 1990s dreamt of a “bright future”; they moved with the intent of finding a stable life abroad and ultimately obtaining foreign citizenship to secure that life. As a result, this group rarely returned to Russia.
An alternative story was more typical for the next wave of skilled migrants: because they could easily meet the requirements of diverse immigration policies, their decision about mobility was made in the context of an open and fluid global market. Their strategy was not to make long-term commitments.
Thus in the case of Russian techies in London two scenarios played out. On the one hand, a first generation of immigrants invested in long-term planning and stability; on the other hand, the later wave placed higher value on mobility and the opportunity for further moves.