In this article, I show boundary-making processes by which young unemployed or precariously employed Russian-speaking migrants in Helsinki distance themselves from ‘less white’ others and carve out the space of respectability and entitlement for welfare benefits. In the context when the discourses around welfare chauvinism create pressure to dissociate from ‘welfare dependency’, young Russian-speaking migrants instrumentalise racialised hierarchies to access a respectable worker identity. Young migrants’ construction of whiteness is intimately connected with a position of a worker-citizen who just happened to experience bad economic downturn, unlike racialised ‘welfare abusers’. The boundaries of deservingness and entitlement for welfare benefits are thus racialised and interconnected with the idea of whiteness. The article shows how whiteness empowers unemployed migrants to construct a strong work ethic through racialisation of other groups and, hence, claim a deserving position as welfare beneficiaries. Colonial depictions of non-white populations as lazy converge with contemporary neoliberal capitalist ideologies of deservingness and productivity in a particularly felicitous way. The research is based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with young unemployed Russian-speaking migrants in Helsinki in 2014–2016.