Saturday, January 2, 2016

Uzbek and Tajik Gastarbeiters in Russia Ever Fewer; Kazakh and Kyrgyz Ones Increasing by Small Percentages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 2 – Most Russian assessments of and reaction to Central Asian gastarbeiters treat those coming in from that region as a whole, but in fact there have been radical differences not only in the numbers from each country but also in the changes in their number over the past two or three years.

            And those differences mean that the impact of the changes in the number of gasarbeiters are hitting the Central Asian countries differently, with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan most heavily affected, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan much less so, and Turkmenistan, which has sent few gastarbeiters to Russia at any point, hardly at all.

            In an article on the “Stoletiye” portal today, commentator Aleksandr Shustov who has followed this issue for some time provides disaggregated data on the numbers from the various countries of Central Asia and discusses the financial and other implications of the changes (

            In 2014 when the economic crisis began, the number of Central Asian gastarbeiters in Russia fell by “an insignificant amount.” During the first 11 months of 2015, however, their numbers declined by 367,000, the Federal Migration Service said, or a total of 8.4 percent according to official statistics.

            The largest declines in 2015 were among those from Uzbekistan (335,000 or 15.1 percent) and Tajikistan (103,000 or 10.3 percent). The numbers from Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan were “almost unchanged,” Shustov says; while the number from Kazakhstan actually rose by 72,600 or 12 percent.

            If one looks at the changes over the last 21 months, the figures and the diversity of directions are even more striking. For this period, the number of Central Asian gastarbeiters decined by 480,000, almost exclusively because of the declines in the number of Uzbeks and Tajiks, 462,000 and 137,800 respectively. The numbers from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan rose.

            These changes are very different from what happened in the economic crisis of 2008-2009, Shustov says. Then there were very small contacts because there were no legal limits on CIS foreigners coming into Russia and the Eurasian Economic Community, with its preferential arrangements, did not exist.

            Countries like Kyrgyzstan which are members of the latter have been able to bounce back quickly in terms of the numbers of gastarbeiters from them in Russia. Countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan which aren’t members have not, and they have suffered financial and other losses as a result.

            Three of the five Central Asian countries – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – depend heavily on transfer payments from gastarbeiters to support their own economies.  In Tajikistan, these payments account for about half of the GDP; in Kyrgyzstan, “about a third;” and in Uzbekistan, about ten percent.

            Both the decline in the numbers of gastarbeiters and the fall in the value of the ruble – except in Uzbekistan, most transfers are made in US dollars – have led to dramatic declines in the size of these transfer payments and put serious pressure on the economies and governments of the countries involved. And increased unemployment has sparked Islamist radicalization.

            At the same time, Shustov says, Russians have generally benefitted from the departure of Central Asian gastarbeiters. Russians have taken the jobs the former vacated, there have been fewer ethnic clashes, and there has been less radicalization of Muslims inside Russia as the Central Asians have left.

            A recent study by the Eurasian Development Bank, the UN, Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and the Russian Academy of Sciences concludes that in the future, the number of gastarbeiters from Central Asia will increase, Shustov says, but only those countries like Kyrgyzstan which are members of the Eurasian Economic Community are likely to benefit.

            “Neither Tajikistan nor Uzbekistan, which have generated three-quarters of all labor migrants [from that region] as of yet intend to join.”  Unless they do, the balance of Central Asian migrants in Russia will change dramatically against them with consequences both in Russia and in their own countries.


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