Saturday, January 18, 2020

Far More People Emigrating from Kazakhstan than Official Statistics Report, Mustafayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Statistics on the number of people immigrating to Kazakhstan are accurate because it is impossible to live in the country without being registered in various ways by the state, those on the number of people leaving are vastly understated because people can leave but retain their Kazakhstan citizenship even if they take a second, Nurtay Mustafayev says.

            Moreover, the Kazakh historian tells Saule Isabayeva of Central Asian Monitor, even the number officially departing is rising again, exceeds the number of new arrivals, and the imbalance in favor of emigration is likely to increase dramatically in the years ahead (

            And while the Kazakh historian does not discuss this possibility, his arguments are worth attending to because they likely reflect the situation in other post-Soviet states where few can live in any country without being registered in some way but many can move abroad without being counted.

            A major reason for the undercount of emigration, Mustafayev says, is that while Kazakhstan law prohibits dual citizenship, many Kazakhs who move abroad in fact take on new citizenship but do not give up their original one, not because they intend to come back but simply for the convenience of having two travel documents.

            “Emigration of Kazakhstan residents to the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and the countries of Western Europe is almost always ‘a one-way ticket,’” he says. “The overwhelming majority of them do not return to the motherland and do not make any contribution to its ‘flourishing.’ Cases of return are rare.”

            A major reason people leave but don’t come back is that headhunter firms and governments are engaged in a serious competition for talented individuals and because many Kazakhs remain convinced that their life chances are better in a variety of foreign countries than in their own, something the government has done little to change.

            Moscow has been particularly active in attracting young Kazakhs by offering them scholarships to Russian universities and a rapid path to citizenship in that country.   There are more than 70,000 Kazakhs studying in Russian higher schools, the largest group of foreign nationality in that country, larger even than those from China, according to official data (

            Because of its own demographic problems, Russia needs educated young people who know its language and culture. Many from Kazakhstan fill that bill, and so Moscow wants to attract them to study and work in the Russian Federation – and not unimportantly to give birth to more new Russians.

            “To be sure, not all of our students take Russian citizenship,” Mustafayev says. “Part of them, mostly of Kazakh nationality who have the chance for self-realization in Kazakhstan, do return. But even this is very useful for Russia because the experience of instruction in Russia is one of the most effective forms of ‘soft power.’”

            Both because of Russian efforts and because of the attractiveness of various countries as places to live and work, the  historian says, the number of people leaving Kazakhstan has been rising, up from 29,722 in 2012 to 41,868 in 2018,  while the number coming to settle in the country has fallen over the same period from 28,296 to 12,747.

            “In my view,” the historian concludes, “we have still not passed the peak of the current way of emigration.”  That is likely years ahead – and the government needs to have good figures about emigration in order to develop policies that reduce the outflow of people in general and the brain drain in particular.

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